Imagine a lush Hawaiian island (or look up pictures if, like me, you haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting one): sandy shores, rugged hills and mountains, greener flora than seems possible. In A Legacy of Bones, this paradise is the backdrop for a history of loss and pain that will define not only the Lathrop family’s legacy, but the fate of countless islanders. Many thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark for the chance to read an ARC.
It might seem counterintuitive to name such a beautiful locale Kaumaha Island (or Misery Island, est. 1850), but when readers delve into Doug Burgess’s tale, the evidence stacks up, leaving little room for doubt. From blatant massacres to carefully devised, underhanded treachery, every resident—elitists and locals alike—shoulders a history stained by more than just the hardships caused by racial and cultural traditions and beliefs clashing on a limited playing field. However, when a stick of TNT literally blasts open a full-scale investigation, a chilling murder and even more corruption is unveiled and threatens the stability of the many already tenuous divides between the island’s inhabitants.
One aspect of A Legacy of Bones that I found particularly compelling (and yet also potentially problematic) is that the story is laid out in two parts, told as a dual timeline that underscores the well-known adage that’s just begging to be repeated when one considers the implications of the Lathrop family and its all-encompassing legacy: “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The past certainly informs the present in this case, and as the plot unfolds, readers will not only follow the investigation taking place in the present alongside cultural experts, developers, protesting citizens, and even a few local gangs, but will learn exactly what happened before to bring us all to this point. The resulting mesh can be difficult to follow, especially when someone might be unfamiliar with Hawaiian legends, the practices of Japanese and Filipino immigrants, the way white plantation owners operate, etc. In short, this long-term power play won’t be the type of book that readers can idly enjoy. It will require them to use as much mental bandwidth as possible so they don’t miss a beat. If they pay close enough attention, they may even be able to successfully predict whodunit.
The cast of characters is a colorful one, as we might expect when so many cultures need to be accounted for. In this regard, Burgess manages a unique balancing act that some might not always pick up on in the dual storyline. While so much of the plot centers on specific social and cultural perspectives, there is always another, perhaps more often marginalized voice quietly interjecting during the murder investigation, or coloring the lens through which we experience the past. Just as there is a lot of information to keep track of in order to fully grasp the nuances of the plot, this method of inclusion and cultural representation creates a mosaic of tones that all gather around Burgess’s written voice and style. For this reader, that helped skirt around the trap that so many authors fall into: clinging to their own experience and injecting their storytelling methods with it, often at the expense of the finished manuscript.
Reminiscent of Agatha Christie works and hard-hitting dramas like Ozark, A Legacy of Bones is a hefty exploration of right and wrong, human instinct and morality, history and suspense, one’s legacy and one’s sympathy—all cocooned within the heady embrace of a gorgeous landscape so many associate with romance and relaxation without considering the grit of everyday life building beneath the surface, ready to explode at a moment’s notice.