Skeletons in the closet
My Sister's Bones a suspenseful drama that runs with the big dogs

Skeletons in the closet
Jeff Mannix - 11/02/2017

My Sister’s Bones is 37-year-old Nuala Ellwood’s debut novel. But it had its genesis in being the daughter of a distinguished television newsman and meeting legendary American war correspondent Marie Colvin. Colvin worked  for Britain’s Sunday Times and was killed during the siege of Homs, Syria, in 2012.

Ellwood was playing piano and pursuing a performance career when she met Colvin at London’s Chelsea Arts Club. The two got to know each other, and Ellwood heard firsthand about the public horrors of the Syrian war and the private terrors of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. She was particularly drawn to learning about battlefield writers and read raw battlefield reporting as well as work by preeminent WWII female war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. Eventually, a grant from The Arts Council England became a career change and awakened Ellwood’s journalistic DNA.

After many interviews with reporters covering Syria, Ellwood cobbled together a suspense novel portraying the effects of PTSD in the life of two estranged sisters coming together over the death of their mother. The first sister, Kate Rafter, is a veteran war correspondent hearing voices and fighting lurking panic, while sister Sally is a hopeless alcoholic fending off demons of her own.

My Sister’s Bones is foremost and fiercely a suspense drama that can run with the big dogs. Ellwood isn’t teaching or focusing on the forensics or haranguing over unrecognized or under-served PTSD casualties. Instead, she populates a drama with caricatures of damaged people with hollow cores and fragile crusts that pull on the reader to stay up way past bedtime.

She delves into what crazy meant before it lost its meaning as a wisecrack.

This is a terrific read, one that will earn you another stripe on your tunic in the hierarchy of fiction readers.

Sister Kate has been away in war zones for 15 years. Sally stayed behind in Herne Bay, a seaside town in Kent, and married pleasant Paul. She has a two-car garage, front lawn, clean windows, Bounce in the clothes dryer but taken to drinking as a coping mechanism. Kate, meanwhile, has left bits of her body and mind strewn across Syria. Sally hates Kate, heard she was blown up in Aleppo, but nonetheless invites Kate to stay with her for the week of putting their mother’s affairs in order.

Kate doesn’t do domestic very well and can’t imagine staying with Sally for longer than lunch, which Sally is too drunk for. So Paul mediates, packing Kate into mother’s lonesome house and becoming oh so helpful. Only we see that Paul is a creep, and it’s tormenting that he is so solicitous and so believed – what a guy, taking care of Sally, now Kate, and always looking out for mother.

Kate settles into the old homestead as well as her calming prescriptions allow. But as soon as her gaze widens out to the back gardens and war and voices begin to recede, she sees a child crouched in the bushes of the house next door, crying. The child is wide eyed with dark hair, poised to run just as a street orphan Kate almost got to keep in Syria before he went missing. So we have the old house, the inebriated sister, the lurking brother-in-law and a kid in the bushes that’s maybe not real. After hearing yelling from next door, the police respond to battle-ready Kate, but the neighbor says there are no kids there. Kate insists and pushes back as if bullets and bombs are incoming. Soon, an ugly past emerges – background check of Kate’s peculiar behavior, sister Sally’s sabotaging of her celebrated sister, Paul’s mending and protecting. It gets claustrophobic real fast, and you want out, to throw this book and all the crazy people away and move on to a plot made of shinier material. But you can’t. You’ve been had, and that’s all I’m going to tell you. So skip a cheap lunch out and buy this book, you’ll thank me.

My Sister’s Bones is available in paperback from William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers at Maria’s Bookshop. Mention “Murder Ink” and get a 10 percent discount.


Skeletons in the closet

Nuala Ellwood

Top Shelf

Rockin' Reverend, a king & a doll, and gastro heaven
Rockin' Reverend, a king & a doll, and gastro heaven
By Chris Aaland
04/18/2019

Dude, where’s Makar? He’s in a burgundy and blue jersey, of course! The day after skating in the NCAA men’s hockey championship game for UMass – and two days after winning the Hobey Baker Award as the most talented college hockey player in America – Cale Makar signed his entry-level contract for the Colorado Avalanche.

Meltdown goes big for 25th
Meltdown goes big for 25th
By Chris Aaland
04/11/2019

The sweet sounds of banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, guitar and upright bass will fill the air this week as the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown turns 25. The Meltdown rolled out all the stops for the big anniversary, too, by booking one of its finest lineups ever.

Delicious water and funkalicious roots
Delicious water and funkalicious roots
By Chris Aaland
04/04/2019

It just doesn’t take much anymore. I spent my 51st birthday Sunday afternoon at Durango Craft Spirits, listening to tunes with my buddy Michael McCardell, while enjoying a couple of old fashioneds and a mule.

Goodbye to BREW, gospel- ninja-soul & Cuckoo's 20th
Goodbye to BREW, gospel- ninja-soul & Cuckoo's 20th
By Chris Aaland
03/28/2019

Sadly, one of Durango’s favorite nightspots and a magical brew-pub, BREW Pub & Kitchen, closes its doors this month. Like many other restaurants and businesses, the aftermath of the 416 Fire chipped away.

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

It's Snow Joke
It's Snow Joke
By Stephen Eginoire
04/18/2019

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” Hall of Fame baseball catcher Yogi Berra once said. That’s a sentiment no one can argue with in these parts. According to Snotel, as of April 12, we are sitting at 153 percent of average snowpack in the San Juans.

Slippery When Wet
Slippery When Wet
By Stephen Eginoire
04/11/2019

What could be a better way to squander a beautiful, warm spring weekend than to spend it sloshing through an icy, water-filled canyon where the non-appearance of direct sunlight is the only guarantee?

Salty Dawgs
Salty Dawgs
By Stephen Eginoire
04/04/2019

A few thousand CFS of cold, clean, snowmelt roaring through one of the driest climates in the United States is a sight to behold.

Etched in Stone
Etched in Stone
By Stephen Eginoire
03/28/2019

With tens of thousands of Ancestral Puebloan sites spanning the Four Corners, rock art decorates countless desert-varnished boulders and cliff walls. These ancient etchings conjure tales that almost seem best left to the imagination.

Read All in Day on the Life