Dry Bones in the Valley.indd

In the small town of Wild Thyme, PA, Officer Henry Farrell and Deputy George Ellis keep the peace–until murder breaks out. Henry learns the body of a young male has been discovered on the land of Aubrey Dunigan, an old-timer whose time has long passed. Aub is taken into custody, but no one believes him capable of murder–including Henry. As the story progresses, Deputy Ellis is found shot to death in his squad car, leaving Henry two murders to solve.

The small town holds secrets galore, and neighbors are suspicious of or hostile toward other neighbors because large oil companies have arrived and are paying big bucks to drill for gas on the rural folks’ parcels of land. Some are for the development and the money it brings and others are dead set against it. The possible ruin of the countryside is an uneasy and forboding backdrop for this story. Henry can’t help but feel his hold on things slipping, which seemed to start with his wife Polly dying of cancer.

Henry’s long-time familiarity with the townspeople, especially the Stiobhard family leads us down several rabbit-holes as he tries to solve the murders. Bouman’s characterization of the Stiobhard family, their warts and eccentricities grandly displayed, brings the rural landscape alive better than any description dump. Henry’s pursuit of Danny Stiobhard and a separate hunt for Danny’s brother Alan, are fine examples of utilizing setting to provide insight into their characters. And because the setting is so strong, it can also be considered a character.

Two minor quibbles with the story: confusion about the Stiobhard’s relationship to “Helen,” who is buried on Aub’s land. I didn’t understand her importance in the story nor how she was related to Aub (or why we’re supposed to care about her). The other bit that annoyed me was near the ending. Henry summarizes that he had an affair with a minor character instead of showing this happening in the story. It felt like the author was rushed into publication and not given enough time to flesh out his story. But overall, Bouman’s sense of pacing is excellent and he keeps the story moving. He’s able to bring disparate threads together and form a satisfying conclusion.

A terrific first novel. I hope we’ll hear more from Tom Bouman and the possible series Henry Farrell is capable of heading. On a scale of one to ten, I rate this novel an eight.