Review: Chest of Bone by Vicki Stiefel

Reviewed by Ronelle

While on leave from her position with the FBI, empath Clea Reese stumbles upon the scene of her mentor’s murder. Dave Cochran holds on just long enough to give Clea some final—and cryptic—instructions. Now, she must team up with the secretive James Larrimer to hunt her mentor’s killer and untangle Dave’s final words. What is the Chest of Bone and why did Dave want her to find it?

Clea’s confusion certainly isn’t helped by her ‘partner’. James Larrimer is a predator who stalks endangered-animal traders. Or so it appears. But his occupation isn’t the only secret he’s keeping. Can he and Clea outsmart the forces aligning against them? Can they even survive them?

***

I really, truly wanted to love this book, but I struggled with the first half to two-thirds—and I mean STRUGGLED. So much so that this was almost a DNF at a lot of points. I think the problem was that Chest of Bone didn’t quite know what it wanted to be, so it tried to be a little of everything; paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, crime thriller, romance.

Honestly, I can’t think of the last book that’s left me so… ugh, but trying to figure out if I accidentally fell down Alice’s rabbit hole! This one was off, from the bizarre writing style to the imbalance of details to the disjointed characters. I suppose the best way to describe it is this: Have you ever tried to read while you’re drunk? You know what each word means, but string them together more than two or three long and you just cannot make sense of them. That’s how the majority of Chest of Bone left me feeling.

The characters were a mixed bag, though Clea was just awful and I was never able to understand, let alone connect, with her. She was confusing, seemed to have hair trigger mood swings, and generally raced around like a madwoman, ranting things that didn’t make complete sense. Bernadette didn’t seem capable of communicating in anything other than cryptic half-sentences. Bob was a jerk, Taka was flat-out creepy (rather than the sinister I think she was meant to be), and Lulu was too immature, even for a teenager. Now, that leaves James. Him, I liked. He was sort of an anchor in this little acid-trip and even he was weird (though he had a good reason for it).

Ms. Stiefel’s writing style is obfuscation personified and it called to mind that scene in Batman Begins where the Scarecrow gassed everyone and they’re left in a fog of frightening, disjoined sensations. Things kept happening that the reader had no context for and a lot of it felt half-finished, half-experienced, half-addressed. Well, all the important stuff did, anyway. A lot of detail was spent on things that didn’t matter to me as a reader (like each movement in Clea’s ballet routine) and glossed over things that did (SERIOUSLY, A SINKHOLE JUST TRIED TO EAT SODONA, AZ, AND YOU’RE NOT GOING TO EXPLAIN THAT???). This might have been a side effect of trying to cram too many events into one story. It all just sorta got jumbled together and lost. Even the twist of the villain reveal wasn’t enough to save it for me.

Lack of context was also a huge problem and the feeling of being out-of-the-loop was so bad that I kept checking to make sure this was the first in the series. It is. Why, then, were its characters and situations introduced like we should have known them from a previous book? Everyone, especially Clea and Bernadette, had conversations about past events that didn’t make sense and made inside references the reader wasn’t privy to (like the comment about the “tiny violin”). It didn’t help that quite a few times (due to formatting or author error) it wasn’t even clear which character was speaking.

Alas, my review wouldn’t be complete without my usual gripe about editing. I think I’m more disappointed than usual because of the conversation I had with the author about her rigorous and repeated editing process. There was the Unholy Duo—missing words (usually articles) and wrong/misspelled words (Mt. Auburn Hospital was Mr. Auburn Hospital at one point, and “ally” was used where “alley” was meant). Not a deal-breaker, all things considered, but worth noting.

Bottom line: I’m pretty sure there was a unique story here, but personally, I couldn’t seem to find a place to grab hold of it. I haven’t read anything else by this author, so maybe this is just her M.O., but if so…read at your own risk!

Rating: D

Click to purchase: Amazon

Chest of Bone
by Vicki Stiefel
Release Date: February 14, 2017
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press

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