Bone Deep by Sandra Ireland is a contemporary psychological thriller enriched with portentous gothic undertones and set deep in the Angus countryside, near the imaginary village of Fettermore. It begins deceptively quietly, relying on the power of Ireland’s sparse prose to captivate, until the atmosphere takes a turn towards the sinister.
The cover blurb reveals that the bond between two sisters has been broken, hinting at the trauma to come. The main narrative however, written in alternating chapters, concerns the meeting of Mac, a retired academic, and Lucie, a young woman Mac hires as her Girl Friday. Both accounts are narrated in the first person, ensuring the reader is privy to the emotional suffering each strives to hide.
Since the death of her husband, Mac has committed herself to her writing work and beloved dogs. Meanwhile, family tensions cause Lucie to feel adrift in the world, happy to retreat to the emptiness of the Scottish countryside. Betrayal looms large.
Ireland’s writing becomes ever more chilling and it falls to Mac’s only son, Arthur to sprinkle light in the growing darkness. As the local café owner, he’s a dab hand at baking comforting brownies and offering support.
When Lucie’s friend Reuben visits, the suspense tightens further as Mac’s hold on reality loosens, making it harder for Lucie, and the reader, to know what is real and what imagined. Sections of Mac’s recount become imbued with a menacing folk-tale quality.
The dreichness of the environment, the damp heavy stonework of the old watermill, the boggy tracks surrounding the Miller’s cottage, and the dark depths of the millpond are so vividly described that as danger closes in so too does the setting.
Ireland’s beautiful writing, tight plotting, and short chapter structure make Bone Deep a page-turner in the very best sense. It sucks the reader deeper until ‘just one more chapter’ makes for a very late bedtime.