Bone Rattle: A Riveting Novel of Suspense (An Arliss Cutter Novel)
Bone Rattle is technically a “police procedural,” because the central character is a lawman (Deputy U.S. Marshal on the Alaska Fugitive Task Force) investigating crimes. However, the book is “thriller” in flavor, because of its fast pace, high stakes, and high level of violence.
The main character, Arliss Cutter, offers an unusual specialty: tracking. In each book of the series, readers learn more about this art. As it applies to law enforcement versus game hunting, Cutter tells us here in volume three:
“Fugitive work—often simply called ‘enforcement’—was the sexy side of the Marshals Service. Everybody had to hook and haul prisoners at some point in his or her career. Deputy US marshals—DUSMs—sat in court and listened to attorneys drone on for so long they probably could pass the bar. They took mug shots, rolled fingerprints, conducted strip searches (lift and turn please), met the airlift with van loads of bad guys—but nobody came aboard for all that. You got a job with the Marshals Service because you wanted to work enforcement. You wanted to hunt.”
Cutter and colleagues thrive on hunting, and in Bone Rattle they get opportunity aplenty. There are enough villains to chase down, victims to rescue, bodies to find, and mysteries to unravel, spread across multiple plotlines and the grandeur of Alaska, to keep the pursuers happily on task.
Unfortunately for readers who follow the series for Cutter, the multiple plotlines are conveyed through multiple viewpoints, which take page time away from the lead. On the upside, the author handles this seamlessly, and the format serves the story by taking readers into not just the supporting characters’ heads but also the bad guys’. The latter’s personalities and motives are realistic enough to be plausible and evil enough to be terrifying. Every page is a buildup to something you know is going to explode (literally or figuratively), but you can never be sure when, and from what direction. The multi-viewpoint format helps ramp up tension and avoid predictability.
Cutter, like all good heroes, has a softer side. This is presented most often through interactions with his family and glimpses into his backstory. He is in love with his sister-in-law, Mim, but chokes that back, preferring to fool himself and others into thinking he’s living with her for financial and logistical reasons after her husband, Cutter’s beloved brother, died.
Cutter helps Mim raise her kids in accordance with his deceased grandfather’s wisdom, which he dubs “Grumpy’s Man-Rules.” These offer pragmatic advice on how to stay alive (Grumpy was a lawman, too) as well as how to live as a moral, professional, compassionate person. The rules give a framework to Cutter’s character that helps readers understand him and trust his judgment during the many moments he must act without pausing to rationalize.
Grumpy also taught Cutter a few things about cooking—which, weirdly, appear in the back of the book as full recipes. Perhaps other thrillers have included recipes before, but most of us only encounter them in cozy mysteries or other, lighter, types of novels.
Nevertheless, readers have the option of learning how to make “Grumpy Cutter’s Venison Stew” and “Grumpy Cutter’s Flaky Square Buttermilk Biscuits,” both featured in passing during the narrative.
After the story closes, the author or publisher (whoever makes such decisions) tags on an epilogue that’s pure marketing teaser and introduces a cliffhanger that suggests more and meaner violence to come. This appendage would serve its purpose better as an “extra” sometimes included in novels to lure readers onward with a sneak peek at the author’s next book, or inspire them to read the other volumes while waiting. Instead, it treats readers as consumers with its grab-by-the-nostrils hook to make them pant after something that won’t be available for another year.
All three of the Cutter stories stand on their own merits to attract and hold readers. The nature of Cutter’s cases, the suite of characters and their development, the smooth and skillful prose, the careful research colored by the author’s experience, the breathtaking suspense, the presentation of the Alaskan environment—all work together to create an outstanding adventure series. They can be read as standalones but work best in sequence. Thanks to the teaser, we know there will be more to come.