Friday, February 12, 2021

The Brontë sisters investigate a creepy mystery in Bella Ellis's The Diabolical Bones

This second in the Brontë Sisters Mysteries is for readers eager to be drenched in all things gothic. Bella Ellis (pseudonym for Rowan Coleman) has carefully adhered to the known demeanors of the sisters and their brother Branwell while adding a crime subplot. 

It’s December 1845, and frigid winds are whipping around the snow-covered Yorkshire moors. The mood is anxious within Haworth Parsonage: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne have sent their poems to a publisher and nervously await a response, while Branwell longs for letters from his former mistress Mrs. Robinson and drowns his sorrows at the pub.

What they need is a distraction. It arrives when their housekeeper, Tabby Aykroyd, reveals that a body has been found at Top Withens Hall, an ancient structure sitting atop the moorland, and that Clifton Bradshaw, the hall’s owner, refuses to inter the bones until spring. 

 The ruins of Top Withens Hall near Haworth, West Yorkshire
(public domain photo by Dave Dunford)

When the siblings trudge there to convince Bradshaw to allow a Christian burial in the parsonage cemetery, they encounter a household haunted by ghosts from thirteen years earlier, when Bradshaw’s wife died. The bones found within his chimney are a child’s, and the sisters want to find out whodunit. Bradshaw, a man rumored to have sold his soul to the devil, is a likely suspect.

Many classic Gothic elements – ghosts, a forbidding house, family secrets, and obsessive love – swirl together in a complex brew, and the supernaturally tinged atmosphere is drawn from the Brontë oeuvre, particularly Wuthering Heights and Emily Brontë’s evocative poetry. The overall effect is creepy without being outright frightening. 

Befittingly, Emily is an irresistible character, with her love for the moors and amusing penchant for bluntness. Ellis also works in issues of the day such as women’s independence and anti-Irish prejudice. The novel should satisfy anyone seeking to traverse the landscapes where these famous sisters lived and took inspiration.

Plaque at Top Withens Hall (public domain photo by Dave Dunford)

Bella Ellis's The Diabolical Bones will be published next week by Berkley in the US. I reviewed it for last November's Historical Novels Review, before it was announced that publication would be postponed until this winter (this has been happening a lot, due to shifting publishing schedules during the pandemic). In the UK, the publisher is Hodder & Stoughton.  The first in the series, The Vanished Bride, came out in September 2019.


  1. Thanks for the review.

  2. Thanks for stopping by to comment!

  3. This looks intriguing. I think I will start with The Vanishing Bride. Would you agree that I should read them in sequence?

  4. Yes, I'd recommend reading them in sequence since there are some references in this one to the investigations in the previous book.