Sea of Bones by Deborah O’ Donoghue

Sea of Bones is a complex psychological thriller that goes much deeper than the standard trope we’re used to in this genre. In this story, Juliet the protagonist, is a career woman who heads the PR department of the Progressive Alliance (PA) party. The PA is a party that puts women’s rights front and centre. Her niece Beth dies suddenly in Moray, Scotland in a suspected suicide but Juliet believes that there is something more sinister behind her death and doesn’t feel that Beth would have killed herself. Her investigation becomes increasingly more mysterious and dark as the story develops. Juliet discovers that Beth had become unwittingly entangled in a dangerous game with men in positions of power who have disturbing desires and who are keen on exploiting the most vulnerable in society. Juliet finds herself and her loved ones in danger. She begins to get closer to finding out just how Beth died and why.

The characterisation by O’Donoghue is excellent. Juliet is a strong, determined character who is conflicted at times with her work life balance but her love for her niece drive her forward into making the right decisions. Declan, her photographer partner is an interesting character who decides to be gung-ho and brave at times but is also perhaps a bit foolhardy. Authority figures are suspect through this novel. Members of parliament, businessmen and the media are all examined and put under scrutiny here.

The scenes in the book are very evocative. You feel that you are actually there with the characters on the remote Scottish beach. The set piece in the ‘Eden,’ nightclub in Manchester is realistically portrayed, as you feel the heat and the pulsating beat of the music, but you also feel the anxiety from Declan and the danger that he is in.

O’Donoghue touches on some extremely important issues in the book. Largely, immigration and welfare of recent migrants, especially those who are unaccompanied minors and are vulnerable to exploitation. It is said in the book, that unaccompanied minors come to the UK from many different countries across the world such as Syria, Albania, Vietnam, etc. These minors are put into hostels and are largely unsupervised, free to come and go as they please but this leaves them open to exploitation from criminal gangs.

The book reminded me at times of recent media scandals such as child exploitation and grooming and also has echoes of the Jimmy Saville case too. It does make you wonder if incidents such as O’Donoghue describes in this fictional tale are happening in real life and if so, will this be the next scandal uncovered? I hope not, for the welfare of those involved, but also realise that it is entirely possible that due to circumstance and perhaps lack of funding, these people may well slip through the net of security that every human being has a right to and should expect.

Sea of Bones is definitely a book that I would recommend as it is a thriller in one sense of the word but is what I would describe as being a ‘social justice’ thriller as it brings attention to important social issues and makes readers aware of the more vulnerable in society and the conditions that they are living in. So make sure you pick up a copy and read this intelligent thriller, pack it in your suitcase for your holiday!

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Jo Cameron-Symes

I believe cultural criticism and analysis should be both accessible and help to further enrich peoples' lives. I have an MA from the University of York in the Sociology of Contemporary Culture and was previously the Chair of a regional charity for people with long term illness. During my time as Chair I noticed that the people I met who embraced culture and used it to enrich and explore their lives found that it enhanced their quality of life. Through accessing and exploring exhibitions, media and gardens that helped people including myself to cope with their current life situation.

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