|THE BRAMBLE AND THE ROSE
Tom Bouman (www.tomboumanbooks.com)
Faber & Faber (www.faber.co.uk)
When a headless body, half-eaten by bears, is found in the woods outside the small town of Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania, local policeman Henry Farrell finds himself partnered with biologist and bear expert Dr Mary Weaver, hunting the bear before its new-found taste for human flesh drives it to kill again. When the body is identified as that of a private investigator, it becomes clear that the bear was doing little more than taking advantage of discarded meat: Carl Dentry was murdered, and it’s up to Henry Farrell to work out why, and by whom. When Farrell’s nephew disappears into the same woods, it’s clear that there might be a bigger threat and now Farrell has a very personal incentive to find out who is behind it as quickly as possible.
Long-time visitors may remember that I read and reviewed – very favourably! – Tom Bouman’s debut, Dry Bones in the Valley, in which he introduced the character of Henry Farrell and the township of Wild Thyme. The Bramble and the Rose is Henry’s third outing (I’m sorry to say I missed the second novel in the series, Fateful Mornings) and I’m happy to say it’s a welcome return to a character, and author, that I still rate very highly.
Henry has changed much from his first outing, where he was starting life anew having been recently widowed and suffering a bad case of PTSD. As The Bramble and the Rose opens we find ourselves in the company of a much quieter, calmer man, married with a child on the way and having slotted nicely into this small, closed community and his role within it. Henry has earned the respect of the people of Wild Thyme, and finds help from unexpected quarters as his investigation progresses – most notably the outlaw Stiobhard family which played a significant role in the Dry Bones investigation. What hasn’t changed is his tenacity, and his desire to see things through to their logical conclusion, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes him feel.
As the investigation progresses, Henry discovers secrets about some of the town’s residents long since buried, and when a woman with whom he had a brief fling before his second marriage turns up dead, Henry is the number one suspect on the state police’s list. Going on the run does little to prove his innocence, but given the choice between languishing in jail, and getting out into the woods to find his nephew and discover who is behind this rash of crimes, Henry doesn’t think twice. What he discovers as he goes on the run is that he has more friends in Wild Thyme than he might have imagined, and more people who trust him and his judgement than he could possibly have hoped.
Like Dry Bones in the Valley, the crime in this latest outing becomes almost secondary to just being in the company of Henry Farrell. Yes, it’s good to have some closure, and discover the truth behind Carl Dentry’s death, but Henry’s journey is the main driving force behind The Bramble and the Rose, and the reason we keep turning the pages. This is a story of family, and of friendship, and Bouman shows us a new side of Henry Farrell through the people who surround him and care for him. More than any other recurring character in crime fiction, Henry is a man we’d like to keep in touch with, who we feel the need to visit on a regular basis, just to check on how things are going.
Tom Bouman’s writing style is gorgeous. His spare language in describing the town and its surroundings and the people who inhabit them is a thing of beauty. The voice of Henry Farrell is distinctive and comfortable, a voice that knows how to tell a story, stripped down to its most important components. These short novels are a flashback to a different era of crime fiction, a short, lean shock of a story with no fat, every word considered and carefully placed. There’s no-one quite like Bouman in modern crime fiction, and so his stories – and his characters – stand out for us and stick with us long after we leave the township of Wild Thyme behind. For as long as Bouman is willing to tell us about Henry Farrell and his adventures, he’ll have at least one very willing reader. If you have yet to experience these wonderful novels, there is no better time than now to jump in.