Some things are best left buried. Gabe is feeling the pressure. His family has money troubles, he’s hardly talking to his dad, plus lowlife Benny is on his case. Needing some space to think, he heads off into the hills surrounding LA. And he suddenly stumbles across a secret that will change everything. A shallow grave.
Gabe doesn’t think twice about taking the gold bracelet he finds buried there. Even from the clutches of skeletal hands. But he has no idea what he’s awakening…
Graham Marks’ Bad Bones is the fourth book in Stripes Publishing’s Red Eye series. I’ve enjoyed the series so far, so I was looking forward to the next instalment. Unlike the previous books, Bad Bones is set in the US, in LA to be exact, which makes for an interesting change of location and possible sets of problems. But while Bad Bones was a fun read, I was a bit disappointed by the narrative and the ending in particular.
The book’s protagonist, Gabe is a likeable sort, though he’s quite a troubled character. It’s hard not to sympathise with his situation and his desire to help his family out. Yet at the same time his anger at his dad – for being in a situation not of his own making, but not seeming to be doing enough to get out of it in Gabe’s opinion at least – and his refusal to talk to him about what is going on both with the family and with himself is annoyingly immature. This might seem a weird complaint, since Gabe’s a teen, but he comes across quite mature in other aspects, such as his sense of responsibility to contribute to the family finances. In addition to his family’s strained circumstances, Gabe also has to deal with the added, and maybe unnecessary, complication of Benny’s demands on him. While I get why Benny, who is the local drug pusher, would see Gabe as an easy mark, I didn’t really get his function to the story, except as being another stumbling block for Gabe and company.
Marks includes some wonderful secondary characters in the persons of Gabe’s best friend Anton, his class-mate Stella, and Stella’s priest Father Simon. I could only wish they had been utilised and developed more, especially Anton. They each of them seem to have an interesting backstory and we only get the barest basics of these histories. I would have loved to have learned more about them since it would have explained their roles in the book more. Also, in the case of Anton’s and Gabe’s friendship it would have been nice to have seen them together more and feel their connection more strongly, because we were mostly told they were best friends and blood brothers, it never actually felt that way.
What did work really well, was the horror element to the story. Gabe’s finding the gold seems to be providence, yet turns into a nightmare and I liked the historical connections Marks made between the gold, the villain and Alta California. Rafael is properly scary and Gabe’s guilty conscience at being responsible for his appearance only adds to the horror. Rafael is clearly evil due to a hunger for power, even if dressed in the clothes of a religious cult, and the link of his appearance to Gabe’s honest and well-intentioned desire to help his family and feel more in control of his life, only adds to Gabe’s feeling of powerlessness.
The ending of Bad Bones felt rather rushed and abrupt and left me altogether unsatisfied. It all felt a little convenient and pat, with everything nicely tied up. Yet despite all my problems with the narrative, I had fun with the book and I found myself rooting for Gabe throughout. Bad Bones isn’t my favourite Red Eye title, but it made for an entertaining read nonetheless.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.
Thanks to Red Eye, as a taster, I also have a small extract from the book for you. Enjoy!
Bad Bones – Graham Marks
When he got into big trouble as a child, Gabe remembered his mom asking him what had possessed him to do whatever it was he shouldn’t have done. As if she wanted to believe it wasn’t really his fault and he had no control over himself.
Standing outside the chapel, the sensation of being taken over, possessed, spread out through his whole body from deep inside and invaded every part of him. More mist than smoke, as he breathed he could feel the coldness swallowing him up. And there was nothing he could do to stop its progress.
He began to move forward, not really knowing if he was being pulled unwillingly towards the chapel or walking steadfastly into whatever was going down in there of his own accord.
By the time he had stepped through the open doors it didn’t much matter either way. He was inside, where the normal rules – the ones which made the world as he recognized it turn – did not apply any more. He knew this to be true because he’d been in the exact situation before. And only just survived.
In the small, confined space where he now found himself, the air was alive with a loud buzzing, like hornets on steroids, and thick with the acrid scent of burnt herbs and a hot, metallic smell he couldn’t identify. The vile mixture clung to Gabe’s nostrils, the taste coating his mouth, and it made his eyes water. He waited for the screaming and the jagged, agonizing knives to begin stabbing at him. Waited for his head to start expanding until his skull disintegrated from the pressure. But nothing happened.
Or maybe it just hadn’t happened yet. A couple of metres away Gabe saw Father Simon with his back to him; he was stock-still, hands held up and out to the side, his white hair a startled, head.
In contrast, some four or five metres further back, a red-eyed figure strode left and right, reminding Gabe of a caged animal obsessively pacing in a zoo. Behind him there was what could have been a low table with something on it, but Gabe couldn’t make out what. Dusty sunlight reflected dully off the man’s dark, slicked-back hair. The red baseball cap might have gone, but it was the same person he’d last seen at Janna’s.
Rafael looked so different Gabe’s heart almost stopped there and then. He was much wilder than before and his barely contained anger seemed to give the man a rippling aura, as if he was sending out intense waves of heat, and every time he randomly punched the air there was a sharp burst of light. Then the man pointed straight at him.
“You came! My disciple, you came!”
This time the voice didn’t echo in Gabe’s head.
He could hear it for real. See the man’s eyes flare as he spoke.
“Yeah, I did!” The words, a dry croak, stuck in his throat and any moment he expected the attack to begin. “I came to help stop you!”