Book review: Detective mystery centers on small mountain town
‘Inherit the Bones,” by Emily Littlejohn
“Inherit the Bones” is a smart, compelling detective mystery set in Cedar Valley, a fictionalized mountain town in Colorado. Think of Cedar Valley as Steamboat Springs: a close-knit, quiet, safe community. The town rarely endures collective tragedy, but when it does, the events shock the community to the core.
Thirty years before, two young cousins disappeared after school and, despite the tireless efforts of their parents and the police, never returned home. The disappearance of the boys tore at the social fabric of Cedar Valley, as every man in town was suspect. But the killer was never found. All these years later, the cold case, known as the Woodsman Murders, looms large in Cedar Valley’s lore. Could the Woodsman have gone on all along, living among his neighbors in town?
Deputy Gemma Monroe dreams of the boys and the Woodsman. Six months pregnant, Gemma’s nightmares increase in frequency and furor in correlation to her anxiety. What’s at stake when you bring a child into a world full of so much to fear?
When a traveling circus stops in town, there is another shocking trauma: A clown named Reed Tolliver is murdered, his throat torn open so viciously it’s impossible to determine the weapon.
Gemma takes the lead on the case. She quickly discovers that, even beneath the clown makeup, Reed Tolliver is not who he seems, and in fact, has longstanding ties to Cedar Valley. Tolliver is the alias of Nicky Bellington, the mayor’s son, who was presumed dead after disappearing in a hiking accident three years earlier.
Gemma’s instinct is the murder of Nicky Bellington is somehow tied to the Woodsman murders 30 years prior. Yet, she struggles to find evidence that convinces her colleagues her lead is legitimate, not the product of her own haunting obsession.
Someone seems determined to keep events in the past buried, to the point of threatening and attacking members of the police force. Yet, the intimidation doesn’t alarm Gemma, rather serves to reinforce her suspicion that the two cases are connected.
While digging deeply into Nicky Bellington’s murder, Gemma also struggles with questions of personal trust and loyalty. Can she forgive and trust her romantic partner, Brody, before their child is born? Trusting Finn, her partner on the police force, is a separate challenge, especially when his attitude and ethics seem questionable. Gemma refuses to let Finn undermine the efficacy of their investigation and the possibility of not only finding Nicky’s killer, but also closing the case of the Woodsman murders.
“Inherit the Bones” is highly entertaining and suspenseful, but also quite thoughtful. Gemma’s character is fully realized; she faces realistic problems and questions that give this story a fresh and compelling depth.
Emily Littlejohn, the author of “Inherit the Bones,” will visit Off the Beaten Path from 2 to 4 p.m. Nov. 26. Littlejohn will sign copies of “Inherit the Bones” and also volunteer as an “honorary bookseller” as part of the Small Business Saturday Indies First campaign.
This book is available at Bud Werner Memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path.
Emily Katzman is assistant manager of Off the Beaten Path.
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