Bone Harvest by James Brogden

May 14, 2020


 Struggling with the effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s, Dennie Keeling leads a quiet life. Her husband is dead, her children are grown, and her best friend, Sarah, was convicted of murdering her abusive husband. All Dennie wants now is to be left to work her allotment in peace.

But when three strangers take the allotment next to hers, Dennie starts to notice strange things. Plants are flowering well before their time, shadowy figures prowl at night, and she hears strange noises coming from the newcomers’ shed. Dennie soon realises that she is face to face with an ancient evil – but with her Alzheimer’s steadily getting worse, who is going to believe her?

When things feel a bit grim, which they often do at the moment, I seek out the soothing balm of my favourite genre, horror. Perhaps it’s because I take some small degree of comfort knowing that fictional characters are suffering far worse than I am.

If you had told me a week ago that I would be writing a review about a horror novel that has a large chunk set on an allotment, I would have been dubious at best. Turns out that my uncertainty was entirely unfounded. This week’s review, Bone Harvest by James Brogden, is the story of a sinister religious cult moving into a quiet rural community, bringing their own unique brand of evil.

It’s not often that you get quite so much backstory when it comes to the villain in a novel. The first quarter of the novel doesn’t feature the main character at all* but follows a fellow who goes by the name of Everett as he flees the horrors of the First World War. Escaping the trenches, Everett finds himself falling in with the members of a strange church, the followers of Moccus. They are a beguiling bunch, led by a charismatic figure known as Mother, they worship a deity far older than any organised religion. To Everett, this strange group offer the chance of security, wealth, long life and all the trappings that come with it. He is able to forget his past and not worry about being branded a coward or a deserter. It becomes clear that Everett has only a passing relationship with concepts like bravery, honour and self-sacrifice. These initial chapters flesh out what drives this man to commit some unspeakable acts.

After many decades, the increasingly desperate cult ends up in a small village where they cross paths with indomitable Dennie Keeling.

Dennie has reached an age where her allotment has become her entire world. Widowed and living alone, she takes solace in tending her little patch of land. Not used to change, when new neighbours appear her innate curiosity is immediately piqued. There is a bittersweet quality to Dennie’s character I really liked. She is suffering from a degenerative condition and you know that ultimately there will be no happy ending for her. This adds a real sense of grim determination to her every action. Dennie is in a literal race against time. Part of her knows that eventually she will be incapable of stopping Mother and Everett. Indecision is not an option, Dennie has no choice but to act. I found myself willing her on every step of the way. Neighbours and other allotment owners are quite happy to dismiss the “slightly loopy old dear” but she refuses to quit. Be warned, it makes the final perfectly judged chapters quite the emotional gut punch.

As an aside, Viggo is a bit of a special character as well. I’ll offer no further spoilers, you can discover him for yourself.

It’s funny the places reading can take you sometimes. Brogden’s novel got me thinking about my maternal grandmother. She passed away from Alzheimer’s many years ago, and I found myself picturing Dennie very much like her. Also, Nan was an avid reader of genre fiction. I’ve never known anyone who could devour a paperback as quickly as she could. It was her that got me interested in horror at a young age, probably too young if I am being entirely honest. She introduced me to the likes of James Herbert and Graham Masterton and Brogden’s writing has a similar unnerving quality reminiscent of both those writers. Initially everything appears blissfully normal but the deeper you dig into the narrative the more ominous events become. I can guarantee my gran would have loved Bone Harvest**, it’s the quintessential British rural idyll gone horribly wrong. This is exactly the sort of thing she would thrust into my hands and demand I read as soon as possible. Mamie had impeccable taste when it came to a good story.

Bone Harvest ended up being a uniquely personal experience for me. I’ve not read any of James Brogden’s other novels, but based on how thought-provoking this turned out to be I need to remedy that situation sharpish. If you are looking for a horror read with a great story and some fascinating characters, then Bone Harvest is the novel for you.

Regular readers of my book related waffle know I like to recommend music that I think fits the novel I’ve just read/reviewed and this case is no exception. A malevolent and brooding novel needs a suitably malevolent and brooding soundtrack to accompany it. The good news is that I have found what I think is a good candidate. Boar by Mark Smythe is menacing and just the right side of creepy enough to keep you slightly unsettled while listening. If that isn’t the ideal pairing, then I don’t know what is.

Bone Harvest is published by Titan Books and is available now. Highly recommended.

*I’ll even go so far as to admit that at one point I was unsure if I was reading the correct book or not. I was reading an electronic review copy and I thought I had downloaded the wrong file. That said, Everett’s story is so utterly engrossing so I didn’t mind in the slightest.

**Trust me, this is the highest praise I can give any horror novel. If it would have got her seal approval it is a winner.

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