The Bone Road by N E Solomons — past hostilities re-surface

Cover of The Bone Road, an atmospheric novel by N E Solomons showing the bitter legacy of the Bosnian War

The bitter enmity of the Bosnian conflict rises to the surface in The Bone Road, bringing a dark tone to this highly atmospheric novel. It’s the first venture into the world of thrillers for  Natasha Solomons, an author who’s won awards for her literary output.

The plot revolves around the disappearance of a sports journalist who is in the Balkans to report on a cycling race. On a day off, Ryan heads into the mountains with his girlfriend, a former professional cyclist and Olympics favourite. He’s ahead of her on the steep route back to their hotel, but suddenly he’s no longer there.

Police initially dismiss Heather’s concerns. In their eyes Ryan went off in a huff after the pair had an argument. There are more pressing matters demanding their attention — namely the discovery of two headless, handless bodies in a nearby river. It’s evident that they’d been tortured before they died.

But, when Ryan’s blood-stained bike is discovered, police inspector Simo Subotić begins to see there is more to this case than meets the eye. Some elements of Ryan’s past life don’t add up plus Subotić has a feeling there is also something not quite right about Heather Bishop. Is she deliberately being evasive or can she genuinely not remember details that could help find out what’s happened to Ryan.

Filmic Qualities

The Bone Road has a strong filmic quality so I wasn’t surprised to discover Solomons is a screenwriter. Too often I’ve come across novels where it’s very obvious that some scenes exist purely because they would translate well to the screen. But that’s not the case here — the high octane scenes and brooding setting of the Bosnian mountains are not bolt ons, but essential elements of the story.

Repeatedly we find the clash between the beauty of this landscape and the ugliness of the events it witnessed. Contradictions that are evident too within the people who inherit this part of the world: hatred and animosity between ethnic groups yet “boundless and soul deep” hospitality and kinship.

If pace and atmosphere were all The Bone Road offered, I probably wouldn’t have found it all that remarkable. Two things made all the difference.

One was the central character of police inspector, Simo Subotić. He’s a man whose disregard for authority has caused his relegation from police headquarters to a low level border town. Subotić’s outspoken views make him unpopular too with many local people. As a Serb he is horrified by some of the atrocities perpetrated by his countrymen in the war, and he wants justice for their victims.

Dozens or more dead lying buried on farmland, ignored and disregarded until the land herself belched out her secrets. They deserved better.

The other notable feature for me, was the seamless way in which the legacy of the Bosnian conflict is woven into the story.

Solomons shows that hostility and suspicion linger on between the ethnic Serbs and Bosniaks, fuelled by accusations of ethnic cleansing and atrocities. The discovery of mass graves reinforces the belief among the Bosniaks that thousands of their people are missing because of actions by the Serbs — accusations the latter vehemently deny.

The differing responses to the past is one of the interesting themes within the book. Some citizens of modern-day Bosnia want to forget the past, some are angry about suggestions of war crime prosecutions by the International Criminal Court. Others, like Subotić, believe the truth must be discovered and faced:

… a finger, a shard of hip, a hint of the truth, to put towards the reckoning. A fragmentary payment in flesh towards a debt that could never, ever be repaid.

Precise plotting and evocative setting combined with a touch of modern history make The Bone Road well worth reading.

The Bone Road by N E Solomon: Footnotes

Natasha Solomons is the author of five internationally bestselling novels, including Mr Rosenblum’s ListThe Novel in the Viola, which was chosen for the Richard & Judy Book Club, and The Gallery of Vanished Husbands. Natasha lives in Dorset with her son, daughter and her husband, the children’s author, David Solomons with whom she also writes screenplays. Her novels have been translated into 17 languages. .

The Bone Road was published in August 2022 by Polygon, an imprint of the Scottish independent press Birlinn Limited Scotland. My thanks go to the publishers for providing me with a review copy.

BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

21 thoughts on “The Bone Road by N E Solomons — past hostilities re-surface

  • September 23, 2022 at 2:28 am
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    I read The Novel in the Viola and thought it pretty average. I’m not sure I’d want to read this one, even if the change in direction seems to be more rewarding for the reader. I have issues with a Brit writing about Serbia & Bosnia… I’m really intrigued why she decided to do this. Does she have a personal connection ?

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    • September 23, 2022 at 6:23 pm
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      I can’t find any info to indicate why she changed direction Kim – or if she has a connection with that part of the world

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  • September 22, 2022 at 1:09 pm
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    Oh this sounds good. I read Solomons’ The Novel in the Viola ages ago but it didn’t make much of an impression – I like the sound of her turn away from light literary fiction.

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    • September 22, 2022 at 9:22 pm
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      I’ve never read anything else by her to be able to compare. I wonder if she switched to thrillers because there is more of a market for this kind of book?

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      • September 23, 2022 at 7:37 am
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        I imagine that’s probably the case, though she obviously did well enough with the light litfic to publish several books!

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  • September 22, 2022 at 11:16 am
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    Just reading the title I assumed already that it would be about some of these serial killers who’re roaming around some of America’s highways. Not: it seems to be about some nationalistic Balkan psychopaths. That’s the only kind that thrives during wars while everyone else suffers.

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    • September 22, 2022 at 9:22 pm
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      There are some evil people around for sure, often hiding in plain sight

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  • September 22, 2022 at 10:00 am
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    I’m sorry Karen, but life’s too short to read Bosnia re-imagined by an Englishwoman. We (in Aust) had an excellent novel by a Serbian refugee from Bosnia – Black Rock, White City by AS Patric which I commend to your readers.

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    • September 22, 2022 at 9:24 pm
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      I know you have strong feelings Bill on the question of narratives written by people from outside the country/ethnic group about which they are writing.
      I’ve heard of the Patric book – shall add to my list.

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  • September 22, 2022 at 7:09 am
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    I’m not likely to read this because thrillers are not my thing, but I do like the honesty about past hatreds lingering on. One of the things that peeved me about Sarah Winman’s Still Life was the way the Florentines simply moved seamlessly on from their fascist past, as if there wouldn’t have been lingering undercurrents from people on both sides.

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    • September 22, 2022 at 9:26 pm
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      I can’t believe a whole population can quickly put such a traumatic period behind them – people have long memories. It took many decades before people were willing to buy anything made in Japan or Germany for example

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      • September 23, 2022 at 4:51 am
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        Yes, and when it’s akin to a civil war, which it was in Italy, the fascists imposing their will on everyone else, often violently, there would be many resentments not to mention acts of vengeance.

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        • September 23, 2022 at 6:18 pm
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          I’ll be alert to this when I get around to reading Winman

  • September 21, 2022 at 8:22 pm
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    So different from The Gallery of Vanished Husbands which I enjoyed. I wonder why Solomons chose to write a thriller. It sounds as if it’s a successful change of direction, though.

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    • September 22, 2022 at 9:26 pm
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      Maybe there is more of a commercial market for thrillers? Or she just fancied a change of direction

      Reply

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