Bones of Contention by Jeanne Matthews

Set in Australia, this is a fast-paced, multi-layered novel of intrigue, family ties and family secrets, complete with mystery, murder and enough plot twists to make one dizzy.

Dinah Pellerin, a down-on-her luck young woman, fresh from the betrayal of her current lover, a Seattle cop, finds herself suddenly on the way to Australia at the behest of her “Uncle” Cleon who purports to be dying. She hitches a ride to from Darwin to Katherine with Jacko, a strange pilot who tries to befriend her, but she’s having none of it. Cleon has called a meeting of the clan so that he can be surrounded by those important to him in his last days. He knows it will be his last days, as he has arranged for an assisted suicide at a secluded lodge in Katherine. Now, Cleon is not her uncle, though he was married to her mother at one point, but he’s not her father either—although he does know the secrets surrounding the death of her father, details of which she’s never been able to pry from her mother. And that’s just the beginning of the familial confusion.

The assemblage in Katherine include not only Dinah, but her brother, his partner, one of Cleon’s former wives, their son, his current wife and their offspring—two horrid adolescents—and various other members of the household staff as well as the doctor who will hasten Cleon’s demise. No one really likes or trusts anyone else and the tensions run high in the secluded house.

Before Cleon’s suicide can be accomplished, the good doctor is found dead—murdered perhaps? Why? Is Cleon the real target? Are the sibs and wives worried about rumored changes to Cleon’s will? Worried enough to kill? Enter the local police, headed up by none other than Jacko, the friendly pilot. He senses that Dinah knows more than she’s telling, and for her part, she’s convinced she can solve the mystery on her own. Will he be able to keep her safe?

Matthews tells a good yarn, though there are so many sub-plots, and the story so fast tempoed that it takes some concentration to keep them all straight. Her inclusion of Aboriginal myth, the Strine dialect, and art treasures indicate a good bit of background study and add depth to the tale. Clues are scattered throughout with abandon and I found myself referring back to earlier chapters to make sure I had it all set in my mind. Who said what, when and to whom become very crucial to the outcome. What is truth, what is inferred and who can be trusted?

All in all, it was an enjoyable read, and I gleaned some knowledge of Australia. It’s not exactly what one might term a cozy, but it’s a good mystery. It goes to show that family is not always what we expect and history might be quite different from what we perceive. It’s well worth the effort to keep the plot straight. The action and intrigue will keep the reader guessing until the end, not a bad way to spend time reading in my estimation.

I received a copy of this book for review from the author, publisher, or publicist.

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