‘I would speak with your father,’ Tabby said, agitated. ‘But with his eyes so bad and it being almost Christmas, it hardly seems right. And young Mr Nicholls is a decent enough fellow, but he don’t have the grit – he don’t have the strength of mind or the stubbornness. Not like you girls.’
‘Really, Tabby,’ Emily said with a smile, ‘I do believe that is the nicest thing you have ever said to us.’
The second in Bella Ellis’ Brontë Mysteries series, The Diabolical Bones sees the Brontë sisters tackling a new and very dark mystery. Set in December 1845, just as the sisters are poised to see their poems in print for the first time, the bones of a child are found interred in a chimney breast of the foreboding Top Withens Hall. What follows is a wintery tale of witchcraft, madness, and violence.
The familiar setting of Top Withens is just one of the many nods to the Brontës’ own novels and an added boon for readers. Ellis’ story rips along at a marvellous pace and, once again, I can’t help hoping that Ellis’ Brontës are close to what they were really like with each other. Emily’s acerbic wit, often directed at Charlotte, made me laugh out loud on several occasions – these are clever, vital young women who are keen to make their mark on the world. The rest of the household is here too, with Arthur Nicholls slowly gaining Charlotte’s approval (although he continues to exasperate Emily). Anne is the real delight in this novel, proving herself to be made of stern stuff as she takes on the gruff Clifton Bradshaw.
These novels are proving a real treat for anyone who is a fan of the Brontës’ world – and wishes there was more of it available to us – but it’ll also appeal to those looking for a decent mystery. As with the first in the series, The Vanished Bride, I can’t help feeling a real sense of sadness when I remember that Anne and Emily die a few years after Bella Ellis’ brilliant novel is set. Coupled with the reprinting of Emily’s poem ‘The night is darkening round me’ at the beginning, it’s a reminder of how fascinating this family was. This is one of my favourite reads this year.