Epeolatry Book Review: The Wretched Bones by C.M. Saunders


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Title: The Wretched Bones
Author: C.M. Saunders
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Grinning Skull Press
Release Date: 14th October, 2023

Synopsis: The Regal Retreat is an exclusive resort situated deep in the countryside of East Anglia where the rich and famous go to unwind. However, far from being a place of rest and relaxation, bad things happen there. Its history has been plagued by tragedy and misfortune. Over the years there have been scores of killing sprees, accidents, suicides, and even the occasional sighting of the resident ghost.

In a desperate attempt to save the business, the resort calls in paranormal investigator Ben Shivers. Since the devastating loss of his daughter and the subsequent breakdown of his marriage, he has been traveling Europe in a vintage VW camper van with his sidekick, a rescue cat called Mr. Trimble. He sees the assignment as the perfect opportunity to break the cycle of self-destruction he has been on, but as he delves into the case, he uncovers a history many would rather forget—sordid family secrets, witchcraft, murder, and an ancient curse, all coming together in a perfect storm deep in the heart of the English countryside.

Welcome to the Regal Retreat.

Ben Shivers is a paranormal investigator looking to escape his tragic past. His wife and daughter died in a fire and Ben, haunted by nightmares and PTSD, lives in a van with his rescue cat, Mr. Trimbles. Ben is called to Regal Retreat, a posh resort with a long history of mysterious and tragic deaths, to investigate what keeps causing them. At the resort, he encounters a variety of people (and ghosts) who help him uncover the truth.

The story shines in the character of Ben. First in what I assume to be a series of mysteries, this book introduces us to Ben and brings us to care about him not just through empathy, but also through his witty personality and kindness, as demonstrated by his sympathy for a lost kitten, and the way he treats others. Saunders has taken time to get to know his protagonist and that shows. For example, it’s clear that Ben’s nomadic existence is a symptom of the trauma he suffered losing his family in a fire. I think it’s a nice touch to the character, it fits his backstory and will provide opportunities for him to travel to other mysteries in future installments.

I also enjoyed the flashbacks to Elizabeth, a sin-eater. Well, I enjoyed most of them. Her story is interesting, and I hadn’t heard of sin-eaters before, so the concept was new to me. Elizabeth takes in other people’s sins literally through confession, and also metaphorically by eating food given to her. She performs this as a cleansing ritual for the recently departed, but also for living members of her village. Although, like anyone who knows too many secrets about too many powerful people, Elizabeth soon pays a horrific price for her services.

Her tale, while one of the more intriguing parts of the story, is a departure from the rest of the work. Despite the novel’s cozy mystery overtones, in Elizabeth’s story, there is a fairly graphic rape/torture scene that felt jarring and a bit out of place. Saunders does not exploit or over-indulge in her suffering, but the rest of the book to that point is fairly light (considering the murder) and it took me off-guard.

Another part of the book that didn’t work so well for me was all the description/exposition. A lot of work, care, and research went into this novel – and it shows – but sometimes I found myself skimming the longer expository segments, eager to get back to the ghosts and the mystery.

Overall, the mystery elements and back story are strong. The setting of the resort is well-established and I enjoyed reading it.


Available from Amazon and Bookshop.

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