Book review: ‘Inherit the Bones’ keeps readers up past bedtime |

Book review: ‘Inherit the Bones’ keeps readers up past bedtime

Karina Wetherbee
Special to the Daily
Emily Littlejohn's debute novel, "Inherit the Bones," is a murder-mystery set in a fictional Colorado mountain resort town perfect for long-held secrets and animosities, and she leaves readers wanting more.
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Occasionally, a crime novel comes along that leaves the reader wanting more, instilling a hope there will be more puzzles for the protagonist detective to untangle in subsequent books. Such is the case with first-time author Emily Littlejohn’s enticing new mystery, “Inherit the Bones,” a well-paced debut novel set in the fictional Colorado mountain town of Cedar Valley.

The insular nature of the small-town setting lends itself well to the dramatic tension that is crucial to a successfully suspenseful mystery. Littlejohn goes the extra step toward raising that emotional intensity by placing the criminal activity firmly within a community of individuals who are deeply entwined and who have lived alongside each other for a lifetime, or at least for long enough to trust each other.

This integration of the cast of characters on an interpersonal level makes for a delectable complication that cleverly obscures wherein the truths and fictions lie.

Cedar Valley is a modern mountain resort, inspired, perhaps, by real-world locales, like Aspen or Vail, with a socioeconomic spectrum from the working-class to the cultural elite, as well as politicians eager for their stars to rise.

Therein rests the potential for long-held secrets and animosities. The narrative centers on Gemma Monroe, a captivating young detective who investigates a brutal murder that threatens to turn the mountain community on its head.

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For Cedar Valley residents, violent crime is an unwelcome and foreign intrusion into the town’s idyllic and somewhat somnolent lifestyle. However, Cedar Valley also has a tormented history — the scab still unhealed — infecting and poisoning the town’s bucolic identity. “When tragedy strikes a small town, it leaves a scar that never heals. Months and years may pass and the scar may fade, but it never goes away.”

Monroe is well familiar with the painful histories surrounding the mysterious disappearance of two young cousins in her hometown, as their white bones have haunted her dreams since she stumbled upon them years ago in the woods. Feeding the mystery surrounding that cold case is a local fairytale about an evil woodsman who once terrorized the forests around the town.

The young detective is one of many characters who Littlejohn presents with personal demons, and the mystery haunting the town is built on a delicate chrysalis of secrets and lies, which shatter when the wrong person speaks.

Littlejohn employs a myriad of tried and true devices of the crime genre to great effect. An unsolved case, portentous crows dead and alive, a traveling circus troupe of misfits, and a ghoulish clown who turns up with a slit throat, all flesh out the flowing narrative.

“Inherit the Bones” is one of those books that when the end of a chapter approaches, likelier than not, something monumental is about to be revealed, tempting the reader to persist long past bedtime. Like a good TV crime drama, the book is binge-worthy, perfect for the airplane or beach.

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