The Family Bones
“Fans of psychological thrillers and new twists on locked-room mysteries won’t be disappointed.”
Set in an isolated location, researcher and student Olivia Eriksen fights weather, geography, and a twisted family legacy as she seeks to determine if nature or nurture fosters psychopathy.
She has good reason to study the phenomenon for her PhD in psychology: her family is filled with violent psychopaths, reaching back through multiple generations.
Despite having rejected the family years ago, she’s brought back into the fold for a family retreat, an invitation she can’t refuse. It’s her opportunity to interview the grandfather who has so far rejected her attempts to interview him as part of her research.
In her personal life, she has kept her relationship with Howard quiet, but he begins to question her commitment when she won’t introduce him to family and friends. At his urging, she not only attends the family reunion, but brings him along as well, upping the stakes for Olivia when things begin to fall apart.
The Horsefly Falls Resort is a rustic lodge far from civilization, out in Eastern Oregon, and the perfect place to isolate characters.
Olivia and Howard discover just how far removed it is as they make the nine-hour drive. “The GPS said we would arrive by noon, the time at which the retreat was supposed to start, but the winding roads up the mountain got the better of me, and we had to stop several times.”
Once they arrive at the resort, the rest of the family begins to appear, and Olivia gets to work identifying who might act out in violent and unpredictable ways.
Then her favorite cousin ends up dead, and her clinical research turns even more personal.
Marr uses two point-of-view characters. In addition to Olivia, there’s Birdie, a true-crime podcaster.
Birdie investigates the disappearance of Li Ming Na, who vanished in Oregon after leaving her home in Oakland, California. “An orphan from the age of nineteen, she had no family pushing the media for answers, and it seems no friends either.”
The story hits Birdie hard. “As a mixed-race woman—of Chinese and white ethnicity—I’m hit in the paunch by the summary of Li Ming Na’s death, definitely.” She goes on to explain the personal connection she feels to the missing woman. “When my older cousin Wendy was found dead by a troop of Boy Scouts, her body discarded on the side of the road, the local news in Bakersfield didn’t bat an eye.”
Determined not to let Li Ming Na’s disappearance vanish from the authorities’ radar, she leaves her home in San Diego and heads north to retrace the woman’s steps.
Marr also intersperses news articles and journal entries, providing readers with more clues than any one character knows and pointing out the public nature of crime in the 21st century. A podcaster can put pressure on the police in ways a private citizen could not have done even 10 years ago when Li Ming Na disappeared.
The family knots become more and more tangled as severe weather traps the Ericksen clan at the retreat, and another family member disappears.
Olivia races to find out who killed her cousin—the only Ericksen she trusted—while Howard discovers Olivia isn’t ready to admit their engagement. Now he’s trapped at the resort with her and her entire family of psychologically damaged individuals.
Birdie’s role in events becomes clearer as the two stories connect, bringing the story to its chilling climax.
Fans of psychological thrillers and new takes on locked-room mysteries won’t be disappointed.