The Skeleton Speaks by Steven Donkin

The Skeleton Speaks1953, Hallowe’en, at Castle Bronmore in Ireland. In the depths of the Castle, locked in a dungeon chamber, lies the skeleton of an old Irish patriot. In the main rooms of the castle, Colin Keeley, the owner, is holding a Hallowe’en costume party for his friends and family. But Colin has plans for the evening, with the skeleton as the centre piece, for before the evening is out, the skeleton is seen walking and heard talking. What was apparently not part of the plans is a gruesome murder…

Luckily, Gert O’Connell happens to have two friends with her at the party, Judith and Henry Geeth. The last time they got together, they solved a perplexing murder. Can they rise to the occasion and find the truth at Castle Bronmore?

I was sent this a little while ago by the author, Steven Donkin. This is the second book in the series featuring Gert, Judith and Henry and Steven has gone the brave route and turned to self-publishing for this mystery series. So, was it worth the effort?

It’s a strange beast, this one. On the one hand, there’s a distinct attempt to emulate the classic style of mystery. You know, those ones with clues and everything. I’d say that Christie would seem to be the primary inspiration, but the talking skeleton seems more like something out of Rawson or even The Three Investigators! But on top of the talking skeleton, there’s a serious attempt to address the politics of the location at the time – part of which plays an important part to the story – and I’ve certainly never encountered this level of discussion, for want of a better word, in the classics.

But you’re here to read about the mystery – and there are some really clever aspects to the plot. There’s an aspect to the murder that I haven’t seen before and a clever trick involving a key that’s not easy to spot. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the book is relatively short, and by the time you’ve had a bit of a think about the mechanics of the crime, the solution has been revealed. A longer book may not be conducive to self-publishing, but there with a longer page count, we could have got to know some of the characters a little better – in particular the Geeths themselves could have done with a little more fleshing out. More time to develop the motive might have been useful as well, as it does seem a little extreme…

And while the mystery has clever parts, the murderer was pretty obvious to me. It might well not be to you – you know as well as I do that no everyone spots the same things. The author does try a variation of a common Agatha Christie trick – and in fairness, does it better than Agatha often did.

So, while there are some flaws, the successes outweigh them, and the book is certainly worth a look. It’s available from Amazon, so why not take a look? There’s a cheap Kindle edition too.

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