This book was a complete surprise. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been, since Ross’s first book, Pynter Bender, was recognized as something exceptional, made prize shortlists, and Amazon’s Kindle price is higher than one might expect. Even this second novel’s attention-grabbing title is exceptional, for reasons the first-person narrator will reveal. His name is Michael Digson, and everyone calls him Digger. He became a policeman by accident. That is, Digger (clever poor boy, now an unemployed and apparently unemployable young man) witnessed the murder in broad daylight of a schoolboy by a gang, only to find himself arrested by the arriving cops, despite objections from market women who also saw the whole thing. The local men said nothing. And thus he entered the San Andrews nick for the first time, to be interviewed by DS Chilman, who changes his life.
This recruiting officer is a strange, hard-drinking Detective Superintendent who has the most unusual way of choosing detectives I’ve ever seen: blackmail, or perhaps one might call it force majeure, if ‘you not leaving right now’ could be said to be an invitation to join the squad. In this country of about a hundred thousand inhabitants, male unemployment is rife, and because the population is small, Chilman knows, or has access to, everything. But one cold case eats away at him. From this earliest part of the book its themes are carefully salted in—not that at this stage a reader would be aware of it. Nothing reveals that the island on which the events are taking place is Grenada, the main island of the Grenadines, except some of the place names. The syncretic religious group who are at the heart of the longest section of the novel are based on the area’s Spiritual Baptists, here referred to as Fire Baptists. So in addition to a gripping plot we get a well-drawn picture of one part of the series of islands that run in an arc from Grenada north and west to Barbados. Ross uses a carefully constructed dialect that gives the impression of the place without being either creole for dummies or difficult to understand. It’s masterly. Having spent time figuring out where and what is going on in the novel, I’ve started to read it again with increasing admiration. You are warned.
Jacob Ross, The Bone Readers, Peepal Tree Press 2016 ISBN-13: 978-1845233358