The Bones of Summer by Anne Brooke

Rating: 8/10 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 
Title: The Bones of Summer
Author: Anne Brooke
Genre: Modern mystery/horror
URL: Dreamspinner Press
Price: US $6.99 (also available in print)
Other Information/warnings: Child physical abuse, violence, explicit m/m, violence
Summary [from the publisher]:
When Craig Robertson’s religious fanatic father disappears, Craig is forced to return to the home he’d left behind after an underage affair in order to look for answers. His new lover, private investigator Paul Maloney, agrees to help so they can continue to enjoy their fledgling relationship.

During his initial search, Craig finds items that belonged to Michael, his lover in that long-ago ill-fated affair, and soon discovers that Michael has disappeared as well. The search becomes an investigation into Craig’s past, and, because of distressing gaps in his memory, he’s terrified of the truths he might find. Finally Craig tells Paul his deepest fear: that Michael is dead and he himself is responsible.

While Paul refuses to believe his lover is a murderer, Craig’s obsession with uncovering clues grows, and their fragile relationship begins to disintegrate. Now on his own, haunted and stalked, Craig has to face down the horror of his memories if he wants to have any hope of a future at all.

My review: Towards the end of Maloney’s Law, Paul Maloney, at the lowest of low points and newly discharged from hospital, encounters a young man called Craig and they engage in a brief, intimate moment that stands out in the novel as one of the few times that Paul is close to real happiness.

The Bones of Summer is Craig’s story, at the point where his life and Paul’s intersects once more. Seeking no more than a trouble-free, pleasant sexual interlude with a man who kisses amazingly well, his reunion with Paul coincides with a family friend alerting him to his father having gone missing. But in looking for his parent, Craig discovers the mysteries about his past are far murkier, and far more dangerous than he could have imagined.

Ostensibly Craig’s story, this novel is also as much about Paul Maloney. Paul’s moved on a little past the sorrow and grief, but he’s still very damaged and raw. The irony is that despite that, he’s not anything like as damaged as Craig, and he has to be the mature adviser as Craig struggles to untangle his history and confront some very distressing memories.

So if you read this without reading Maloney’s Law, you’ll enjoy it, but not as much as someone who knows who Paul Maloney is. I’m not convinced that Ms Brooke has made Paul’s inner anguish entirely clear without a reading of the first novel, just as Paul is given to making statements about Craig for which we are given very little supporting evidence – or shown Paul’s train of thought. That’s probably my biggest gripe with the novel, and over all, it’s not a big issue.

The story’s told in third person past tense, which worked slightly better for me than the first person present of the first novel. Brooke’s writing is clean and easy to read, and the plot straightforward, albeit with a slightly predictable ending. It reads very much like a double episode of a superior BBC crime programme, with similar dark themes and somewhat overblown story, but is highly enjoyable for all that. Craig isn’t as fascinating to me as Paul, but that’s because I fell for Paul first, I suspect. In his own right, he’s a well-drawn character with a credibly horrific past of abuse and a first love gone terribly wrong. The relationship between the two young men, both so scarred and battered, is also believable, and far from easy.

As a sequel, I heartily recommend this, though it’s not a light read, or a particularly cheerful one – anyone looking for a romantic Happily Ever After will have to settle for something much less certain, though still very welcome. Ms Brooke stares unflinchingly at the dark underbelly of every day existence, and makes it uncomfortably real.