“Bone idle” by Suzette A Hill (2009), fiction
The recommendations on the back of this book are as follows: “An intriguingly quirky read” (Leslie Phillips), and “E F Benson crossed with Jerome K Jerome” (The Times).
I picked up this book in a second-hand bookshop on holiday in Wigtown a couple of weeks ago, when I was looking for something light and entertaining as bedtime reading.
The protagonist is a likeable English vicar who has murdered one of his parishioners but has, thus far, escaped justice. On the first page, reference is made to a previous novel (“A load of old bones”) which apparently tells the tale of this murder. The fact that I hadn’t read the previous novel didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this one, although now that I’ve read this one I’d like to read the first one.
The Reverend Francis Oughterard is Canon at St Boltoph’s in Surrey, and the book has a definite English flavour to it. The tale is told in the first person, mainly by Oughterard under chapters headed ‘The Vicar’s Version’, but also occasionally from the point of view of his cat, Maurice (chapters headed ‘The Cat’s Memoir’), and his dog, Bouncer (‘The Dog’s Diary’). Each of the voices is distinctive and I enjoyed the unusual touch of having the vicar’s pets give their angle on the story.
There was no specific mention of the decade in which the novel is set, but since the vicar has a car and a telephone and listens to the wireless rather than watching television, my guess is the 1950s.
Oughterard has a gift for getting embroiled in dodgy dealings and trouble of all sorts, but gives the impression that he would much rather lead a quiet, uneventful life. I got slightly confused between some of the female characters from the parish, but the main characters were, I thought, well described and convincingly written.
I enjoyed the setting, pace and style of this book and I’ll be looking out for more by the same author. I was interested to read on her website that despite being an English graduate who spent her working life teaching English Literature, she didn’t write any fiction of her own until well in to her sixties.
It was only when I was sixty-four and well retired, that out of idle curiosity I thought I might try my hand at a short story – just to see what writing fiction felt like. I found out: and to my ongoing surprise the Bones series is the result!
The first of the series, A Load Of Old Bones, was rejected by everybody – agents and publishers alike – and feeling that at my age time was running out, I felt forced to self-publish.
Being idle and having no business experience, this was a terrifying prospect but somehow it worked and the paperback sold well. And a year later, with the sequel Bones In The Belfry finished, I was much relieved to be offered a contract by the publishers Constable & Robinson. Jubilation all round
This information is of particular interest to me, given my current situation, and has given me some food for thought.
I would recommend “Bone idle” to anyone looking for a light, humorous novel. As indicated by The Times review, if you like Jerome K Jerome or E F Benson I think there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this.