Unknown bones, untold secrets, and unsolved crimes from the distant past cast ominous shadows on the present in the dazzling new thriller from New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen.
Present day: Julia Hamill has made a horrifying discovery on the grounds of her new home in rural Massachusetts: a skull buried in the rocky soil-human, female, and, according to the trained eye of Boston medical examiner Maura Isles, scarred with the unmistakable marks of murder. But whoever this nameless woman was, and whatever befell her, is knowledge lost to another time…
Boston, 1830: In order to pay for his education, Norris Marshall, a talented but penniless student at Boston Medical College has joined the ranks of local “resurrectionists” – those who plunder graveyards and harvest the dead for sale on the black market. Yet even this ghoulish commerce pales beside the shocking murder of a nurse found mutilated on the university hospital grounds. And when a distinguished doctor meets the same grisly fate, Norris finds that trafficking in the illicit cadaver trade has made him a prime suspect.
To prove his innocence, Norris must track down the only witness to have glimpsed the killer: Rose Connolly, a beautiful seamstress from the Boston slums who fears she may be the next victim. Joined by a sardonic, keenly intelligent young man named Oliver Wendell Holmes, Norris and Rose comb the city – from its grim cemeteries and autopsy suites to its glittering mansions and centers of Brahmin power – on the trail of a maniacal fiend who lurks where least expected . . . and who waits for his next lethal opportunity.
With unflagging suspense and pitch-perfect period detail, The Bone Garden deftly interweaves the thrilling narratives of its nineteenth- and twenty-first century protagonists, tracing the dark mystery at its heart across time and place to a finale as ingeniously conceived as it is shocking. Bold, bloody, and brilliant, this is Tess Gerritsen’s finest achievement to date.
Author’s note: Why I wrote THE BONE GARDEN
It astounds me how little people today know about the history of medicine.
I first learned about the disease “childbed fever” when I was a medical student. Also known as “puerperal fever,” the illness was a painful, horrifying way to die, and during epidemics, it killed up to twenty percent of all pregnant women. One American medical hero stands out for his role in pointing out the role of doctors in spreading the disease. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes was the first in this country to urge his fellow physicians to wash their hands. Today it seems like such an obvious suggestion, but in Holmes’s era, hand-washing was not automatic. Doctors would move straight from the autopsy room to the maternity wards, and with their unclean hands would spread deadly bacteria from patient to patient. Why was Holmes the first to see the dangers? What experiences led to his groundbreaking conclusions?
I wanted to explore just that puzzle in THE BONE GARDEN. In this story we see Holmes as a young medical student, exploring the mysteries of human anatomy and disease. During an epidemic of childbed fever, a doctor and nurse have been murdered, and it’s up to Holmes and his fellow medical students to track down the killers. Yes this is a murder mystery, but at heart THE BONE GARDEN is really about Holmes’s role in medical history. What he witnesses in this story directly leads to his revolutionary scientific paper “On the Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever,” which he will one day present to the Massachusetts Medical Society — a breakthrough that will change the face of American medicine.
I’ve been asked by some readers: “Why bother to place a real person like Holmes in the book? Couldn’t a fictional character have worked just as well in a story of childbed fever?”
That would be like writing a novel set in 1776 and replacing George Washington with some fictional General Brown. Only someone woefully ignorant of American history would suggest such a thing.
Those who know their medical history understand that Oliver Wendell Holmes deserves to be acknowledged — both in history as well as in fiction — for the countless women’s lives he saved.