The Family Bones – When Relatives Are Murderers

Olivia Eriksen’s family is famous, for all the wrong reasons. (Don’t worry about keeping track of all these relatives. The author, Elle Marr, provides a detailed family tree on the opening page.) Olivia’s great-uncle, Calder Saffron Eriksen murdered her great-grandfather. Calder isn’t the only one spending time in prison. Calder’s son, Mark, also is in jail for murder. Olivia’s fascination with her history led her to become a psychologist. Now at U.C. Davis, working on her PhD dissertation which – what else? – focuses on the Eriksens – she needs to fill in some blanks with primary and secondary sources. So when she receives an invitation to a family reunion to be held at a remote retreat, she decides she can kill two birds with one stone. The only problem, during the event people will die, not birds.

Elle Marr’s previous mystery, Lies We Bury, also dealt with family secrets. And as we know from recent headlines, even the wealthiest families are not beyond committing heinous crimes. 

Olivia convinces her fiancé, Howard, an assistant dean at her college, to come along. “I’m dying to meet the rest of the clan,” he tells Olivia. “The good ones, anyway.” Telling the good guys from the bad guys turns out to be more difficult than Howard, and even Olivia, can manage. They don’t have to wait long for the first body to turn up. Olivia’s cousin, Alfred, someone she likes and has been close to, asks to meet her after midnight. When he doesn’t turn up, she goes back to her room. The next day he’s found floating in the water. Olivia soon finds herself a suspect. When a second body turns up – this time in Olivia’s room – she’s sure someone is trying to set her up.

Because the weather has turned dangerous with roads washed out, the police won’t be able to begin an investigation. Alfred initially is placed in a large hotel refrigerator. But Olivia, hoping to discover how Alfred really died, finds that his body has been moved. Someone is behind what’s happening but in this family, the suspects are numerous. 

Howard can no longer be counted on to support Olivia. He’s angry because she refuses to announce their engagement. They are sharing a room, but Olivia begins to hide what’s happening, including stashing that second body in a closet.

The situation is about to get more complicated. Birdie, a podcaster whose focus is true crime, has been investigating the disappearance of a young woman, Li Ming Na. Marr alternates the narrative between Olivia, Birdie, and diary entries from another woman. Is it Li Ming? Or another one of Olivia’s relatives who everyone believed escaped to Europe. Did she? Or was she also killed by an Eriksen?

Marr attacks a debate that continues to rage throughout medical circles. Does nature or nurture determine a person’s personality and psychology? In Olivia’s case, does her education and the people she surrounds herself with cancel out her family’s penchant to commit deadly crimes? That question will linger long after you have digested the novel’s explosive conclusion.

The Family Bones
Elle Marr

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (691 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.