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Carter, Philip - 'Altar of Bones'
Hardback: 640 pages (May 2011) Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd ISBN: 0857202065

ALTAR OF BONES is the first foray into this genre for a pseudonymous author who is already well-established in another field. S/he is to be commended for a valiant first effort, and the book is light enough, despite its size, to be a perfect beach companion. However, parts of it didn't quite hit the spot with me and I was rather disappointed with some of the characters and plot. Some of the coincidences were just too far-fetched and the crazy car/motorbike chase through Paris, where the car seemed to overtake the bike despite the heavy traffic being at a standstill, was really pushing it. That said, if you can survive this and the far too obvious, and unnecessary, sexual tension between the two central characters, then you should quite like the book's interesting main ideas.

The book opens in the present, in San Francisco. Rosie, an elderly homeless woman is on the run from a man who is going to kill her. She seems to evade him at first but is then fatally stabbed and dies babbling something incoherent but sounding like 'there was no need to kill him, he didn't drink from the Altar of Bones'. The scene then switches to Siberia in 1939, with Lena Orlova making an heroic escape from prison, accompanied by her lover Nikolai Popov. Fighting to survive in the bitter cold, they take refuge in a cave that Lena has directed them to. The cave contains the mysterious Altar of Bones, and Lena, who already knows of its existence, gives her injured and frozen lover a mysterious substance from it, in order to heal him.

Things then switch back to the present, to Zoe Dmitroff on the one hand and Ry O'Malley on the other. Zoe is a lawyer who defends abused women and Ry is an ex special-ops soldier. Someone mugs Zoe and attempts to kill her, shortly after she finds out about the shocking murder of a grandmother that she didn't know she had, while Ry's father's deathbed confession of murder results in his brother being stabbed to death for knowing something that he doesn't actually seem to know. Both of these characters are linked to the Altar of Bones and end up on a hunt to track it down - leaving a trail of debris and death behind them. Somebody wants Zoe and Ry out of the way and seems willing to stop at nothing to achieve their goal. Meanwhile, the reader discovers that Zoe has been named the Keeper of this Altar of Bones, and must keep it secret and safe for all time, while her crazy mother is not only keeping secrets from her but wants to have the Altar of Bones for herself. Nowhere is safe for Zoe and Ry as they try to find the cave in Siberia where they believe all will be revealed. Manic car chases and gratuitous sex scenes pursue them as they try to stay focused, alive and together on their way across Europe.

Parts of the book are really well done - when the pressure is on, for example, the hairs on the back of your neck seem to rise deliciously - but parts fall well short of the mark and the worst bits would make Mills and Boon seem to be a worthwhile alternative read for a hardened crime fiction fan. Having said that, I would be rather sad if this author didn't have another bash at crime fiction and would be interested to read the next book that they produce, in the hope of an expansion on the flashes of brilliance I see here.

Looking for an easy read to take on holiday? ALTAR OF BONES will be just perfect for you.

Read another review of ALTAR OF BONES.

Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland
July 2011

More crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 10/03/2012 14:51