Set in Czechoslovakia between the years of 1943 to 1956, the characters are in constant danger, and one-step away from death throughout the entire book. Even when World War II ends, and Nazi Germany no longer controls the destiny of the Czech people, another world power brings a different set of troubles to the Eastern European country. It’s not certain if the occupation by the Soviet Union is an improvement upon the lives of the already downtrodden. If they managed to escape the war, it was only to end up in another type of nightmare where anyone—lovers, relatives, nuns—might end up as a spy and an enemy.
In the world portrayed by Ms. Dougherty, the characters of Felix and Magdalena are at first innocents caught in an evil and dangerous world. But with each betrayal and with every death, they lose their innocence as they scratch their way to survival.
The plight of Jews and gypsies provide the reader no surprises here; but the addition of priests, sculptors, and bankers into the complicated plot woven by the author, lend an air of constant tension to the book.
The plot moves back and forth from 1943-44 to 1956 to give just enough of a hint of what is to come and how they got where they are. Ms. Dougherty is careful to provide the chapter headings with dates and locations so the reader can easily move from one setting to the other. There’s no time to figure out the year or setting because the action never lets up in either time.
When the violence and trickery become overwhelming, the plot shifts to the paranormal where the spirits of those gone before come again to help give hope and advice to Felix and Magdalena. The reference of the Bone Church comes from a real church where human bones decorate the inside of the church. Ms. Dougherty describes in horrifying detail the interior from Felix’s point of view when he first sees it: “Nearly every part of the interior gleamed like the new teeth of an infant. Bones from some 30,000 dead Christians lay configured into pyramids, light fixtures, chandeliers, pinnacles, coats of arms, an altar, and a monstrous hydra of ribs and skulls that sat atop an intact spinal column.”
The terrifying place for Felix soon turns into his savior. The book comes full circle when the bones of one of the characters find its way to the Bone Church finally to find peace.
Ms. Dougherty’s imagery stands out from the heaviness of the plot’s action. I was captivated from the beginning with a description of Palestine, where Magdalena had visited as a child.
“The desert there had seemed to her a beautiful sleeping woman. If the mountains were her body, the desert was the palm of her hand, cracked with the lines of her destiny. The hot air was her breath.”
If you’re a fan of historical fiction, this book provides yet another experience of a dark time in Eastern European history. If you love suspenseful thrillers with spies lurking around every corner, then The Bone Church will surely keep you turning the page. And if you love a tale with paranormal assistance, you find it here. I hit the jackpot because I love all three of those elements within fiction.