You don’t need to read many pages of Anna Bailey’s debut novel, Tall Bones, to realise that the disappearance of Abigail Blake is just one part of many other – equally tragic – stories. From the outset, the tension amongst the inhabitants of the small American town of Whistling Ridge, where Abigail and her family live, is almost suffocating. Readers are very quickly drawn into the minefield of small town rage, as past secrets unfold, after Abigail goes missing.
In fact, the disappearance of Abigail or Abi, almost becomes a sub-plot at times as we learn of the long-held grudges and resentments that have built up, not only within Abi’s own family, but also their neighbours. Through Emma, Abi’s best friend and the last person to see her alive, we gradually get to know more about 17-year-old Abi and the emotionally dysfunctional Blake family. The preacher of the local Baptist church, Pastor Lewis, is central to the mounting tension, holding the entire town in his clutches.
The story unfolds through a narrative that moves from the past to present, starting with Abi’s disappearance one night after a party at the Tall Bones, a circle of six white stones, on the edge of this Rocky Mountains town. Through flashbacks, Bailey gradually fills gaps in the story, drip feeding us with a series of frequently harrowing incidents that have beset the main characters. As a reader it is hard not to be horrified at what we learn. For me, this wasn’t an easy read in parts because of the inherent bigotry, oppression and brutality, which seems to shackle the characters to a past they cannot escape from.
Bailey paints a vivid picture of each of her characters – the psychologically-scarred Blake siblings, Abi, Noah and Jude; their parents, Dolly and Samuel, so blinded by their own troubled back stories, that they are unable to function as compassionate, caring adults. The other characters in turn are also battling their own demons, although out of all them I found myself rooting for Emma in her quest to uncover her own family secret.
With its twists and turns throughout, Tall Bones is a gripping psychological thriller, packed with guilt, shocking secrets and complex family dynamics, all played out in the oppressive claustrophobia of small town America. What happened to Abigail Blake remains at the heart of the book but it’s the small tragedies played out in the lives of the others that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading this haunting and soul-stirring novel.
Anna Bailey was born in Bristol and she studied Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. She wanted to become a journalist but found herself moving to America and becoming a barista at Starbucks instead! For a while she lived near the Rocky Mountain National Part in Colorado; the inspiration for the setting of Tall Bones, published in the UK by Doubleday.
Tall Bones was reviewed for Books Up North by Sarah Banks
Sarah is a journalist, writer and photographer living in Ryedale, North Yorkshire. She has written for regional and national newspapers and websites as well as writing a guidebook to Greenwich when she lived in London. She has been an active member of her local book festival, hosting author events and assisting with publicity and social media.
With the North York Moors National Park and Yorkshire coast on her doorstep, she was inspired to improve her photographic skills and recently qualified with a diploma in photography. If you visit her website you see examples of her work and some greetings cards are available to purchase via Etsy. When not enjoying the great outdoors with family and friends, she enjoys sitting down to watch a movie or curling up in a quiet corner with a good book.
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