Can you be redeemed for crimes you did not commit? Charlotte Rowe has spent her adult life trying to find out. A husband-and-wife serial killer team kidnapped the infant Charlotte after they murdered her mother. They groomed her to follow in her footsteps, teaching her to operate a furnace that burned the bodies of their victims, and were about to initiate her into their killings when the FBI raided their hideout. Charlotte has spent her entire life under the spectre of their crimes, and the suspicion of some that she was complicit in the murders.
So when a powerful corporation and its shadowy allies trick her into piloting an experimental technology that gives her superhuman powers, Charlotte must decide whether she will seek freedom from their manipulations, or use their questionable but effective means to ensure no one else will have a childhood like hers.
It is instantly clear that there are no perfect heroes in Christopher Rice’s Bone Music, and that everybody has skeletons in their closets. The thrill, and for many readers, the challenge, is figuring out what those skeletons are, how they’re related and which of the many flawed people that populate Rice’s fictional American Southwest are really the good guys.
Bone Music is reminiscent of Michael Crichton at his best, but without his occasional myopias. Rice is refreshingly frank when constructing his characters, drawing clear distinctions among them without resorting to rhetorical kitsch or overwrought stereotyping. And he is really, truly funny. Although present-tense narration can be gimmicky, Rice’s storytelling voice carries enough bite that his real-time engagement with the story is consistently enjoyable, and his frequent sly interjections are welcome breaks in what could, in a different writer’s hands, so easily be a mawkishly macabre tale.
There are moments when Rice teeters on the brink of sensationalism, a rhetorical dance that supplies its own kind of thrill. Bone Music has not been sanitised, much to its credit. Few thrillers worth their salt are. Its population of survivors do not lend themselves to anodyne platitudes or flowery syntax, and Rice supplies neither. His characters are blunt, forthright, and frequently caustic, and his writing suits them well.
Bone Music is a funny, engaging story filled with interwoven backstories and intrigue that rarely, if ever, slows down. It’s a high-energy sci-fi thriller with few pretensions, a consistently entertaining and engagingly crafted story that careens around dusty Arizona roads, glittering corporate boardrooms and anonymous corners of the internet as each of its characters search for answers, seeking absolution for transgressions both real and imagined. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun to read.