When Julia bought an old fixer-upper house in rural Massachusetts, she was looking forward to gardening–a relaxing project to keep her mind off of the divorce. But when she unearths a human skeleton which shows signs of premortem trauma, she finds herself getting swept up in a mystery that began in 1830s Boston. She meets Henry Page, an 89 year old man with family connections to her new estate, and they begin searching through boxes of old letters, many of them written by the famous Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. Along with Julia, the reader begins to hear the story of seventeen-year-old Irish immigrant Rose Connolly and medical student Norris Marshall, the son of a lower-class farmer. While Norris, Wendell, and their fellow doctors try to discover the cause and treatment for a fever epidemic that claimed the life of Rose’s sister and many other recently pregnant women in the hospital, Rose tries to protect her late sister’s child from her abusive brother-in-law, Eben. Norris and Rose’s stories become intertwined when nurses and doctors from the hospital begin to be murdered and mutilated with a distinctive pattern of knife wounds. Norris and Rose are the only two people to have seen the murderer (a figure cloaked in black with a mask like a skull), but no one believes them, and due to their lower-class status and circumstantial evidence, they both become murder suspects. Meanwhile, it seems people besides Eben are after Rose’s baby niece. The key to the mystery may be found in an old locket that Rose pawned to pay for her sister’s burial.
If you like thrillers and find medical history interesting, then this is the book for you! Gerritsen weaves details about Victorian medical knowledge (or lack thereof), body-snatching surgeons, and the medical education system of the time into a suspenseful mystery plot. The present day plot is kind of cheesy, but only comprises a small fraction of the novel. Readers who like suspenseful forensic mysteries or historical fiction thrillers will likely enjoy this novel.
If you liked The Bone Garden as a historical mystery, you may be interested in The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. If you liked The Bone Garden as a medical thriller, you might like the Lincoln Rhyme books by Jeffrey Deaver.