Macmillan | 2017 (26 January) | c.400p | Review copy | Buy the book
When little girl Clara Foyle is stolen away from school and not a trace of her can be found, the local community learns to be afraid of shadows. Another small child, Jakey Frith, is especially frightened. He feels like he’s being watched and he’s even given the bogeyman a name: ‘Ol’ Bloody Bones’. Jake is a boy in need of particular care. He suffers from Stone Man Syndrome, a debilitating and agonising disease that will trap him within a second skeleton bit by bit. Jakey’s parents adore him more than anything in the world, more than their love for each other, and this knowledge eats away at them both, harming Jakey’s father Erdman in particular, but soon they will know the true meaning of worry and despair. The Bone Collector has a special place in his museum for such a special child.
Detective Sergeant Etta Fitzroy is assigned the case of Clara Foyle by The Boss and she jumps at the chance to prove herself. She needs to. Etta once grew far too involved in a case and it’s left its mark on her and her reputation. She knows she can’t make the same mistakes again. But how could anyone investigate these missing children and not get too close? Etta is determined to find them.
Rattle is an astonishing debut novel by Fiona Cummins. To call it a piece of crime fiction isn’t sufficient because this is a clever novel that draws the reader in to a dark and disturbing world in which anything can happen, even the inexplicable. That doesn’t mean we’re taken into supernatural territory but there is something just a little bit strange about some of the characters, particularly the ‘relationship’ between Jakey and Ol’ Bloody Bones. The novel shifts perspectives and one is that of the Bone Collector himself. It’s creepy in the extreme and utterly compelling.
The novel is such a success for so many reasons and atmosphere and mood are certainly key. But this is supported by the structure which I loved. It moves quickly between perspectives, the voices shifting, and watching it all is the knowing eye of the author. Hints are dropped and add to the foreboding and menace as well as the novel’s curiosity. I’m a big fan of Sarah Lotz’s The Three and Day Four, and Rattle has a very similar appeal. Reality touches horror and it recoils.
The characterisation is powerfully done. We’re shown both evil and good but there are also characters, noticeably Erdman Frith, who change through the book and grow before our eyes. Erdman is my favourite figure in the novel although his son Jakey is absolutely adorable, as is Clara Foyle. I didn’t get on quite as well with Etta Fitzroy. At times, Etta’s introspection is a little tiring and you can most definitely see why her behaviour has got her into trouble in the past. But there is something of the superhero about Etta, battling against the villain, the Bone Collector, and nothing will stand in her way.
Rattle is a fabulous book, easily one of the best crime novels I’ve read in a fair old while, and I am so impressed by Fiona Cummins’ writing – it is perfectly pitched, its creation of mood fantastically achieved and the pace builds and builds. Above all else, Rattle is a thoroughly entertaining and skin-creepingly shuddering crime thriller. If this is a debut novel, we can only wonder at what will be next from this wonderful writer.