Bad to the Bone by Tony J Forder

A review of the crime thriller novel Bad to the Bone by Tony J Forder.

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Bad to the Bone starts with the discovery of the skeletal remains of a young girl. Set in and around Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, the case is passed to Detective Inspector James Bliss and Detective Constable Penny Chandler to investigate. Bliss also enlists the help of an anthropologist, Emily Grant, and she quickly discovers that the bones had originally been buried somewhere else and only recently moved to the location they are in now. Emily is also sure that the girl was involved in a traffic collision and then strangled. Tracking down a 999 call, the two detectives find a witness that remembers hearing a car hit something and then seeing what looked like a body in the gutter. By the time the police arrived there was no sign of either. After the seemingly unrelated deaths of two retired police officers the investigation takes a much more serious turn that could cost the two detectives much more than just their career.

Bad to the Bone is not a standard police procedural story—nor a typical thriller—and suffers from this lack of focus. The main characters are fairly likeable, although Bliss is a bit of a misery. Very early on in the story the writer explains that James lost his wife to a violent crime—although he drip-feeds the full details all through the book. He is also diagnosed with a medical condition that could affect his long-term future in the police force. Bliss does tend to grumble almost constantly (well, it seems like that) and the characters of both Bliss and Chandler do not really develop at all, which I feel may be because this is the first book in a series.

On the plus side, the main character relationships are well-written and believable, including a budding romance which is sweet and touching, and it makes a refreshing change that the characters don’t immediately jump into bed with each other.

The actual story is an interesting one. The crime having taken place many years in the past added an extra dimension to it. Could you remember what you were doing sixteen years ago? I know I couldn’t. None of the witnesses actually saw a murder, so it would be unlikely that anyone would remember the exact date and time of any incident, let alone any conversations. I feel that this has put constraints on the writer regarding the investigation and therefore the story moves very slowly.

Forder writes well, does not over-describe everyday objects and, although uses some technical language, he does explain if necessary. Bad to the Bone could have been an amazing book. It’s worth a read, but not when you are tired.

Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.

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