The Shaman’s Bones by James D. Doss. Should stay buried.

The Shaman's Bones

Sort-of Read January 2016
Recommended for fans of James D. Doss only

If you enjoyed this book, fabulous. Great. Please don’t read this review. I’m very forgetful, and if someone suggests this book to me in a year, I’d probably take a look at it because I’m a sucker for the southwest and a skeletal image. So I’m going to be very explicit.

Dear Carol:

Don’t read this. I’m not kidding. You hated this book. It’s the kind of writing that will result in shouting, and the poor library book doesn’t deserve to be thrown across the room.

The narrative is tailor-made to make you crazy. Doss loves the third-person limited perspective, and will change perspectives multiple times in a chapter. I know you think I’m exaggerating, but it’s true. Let me illustrate: The first chapter has a weird poetic dream-state description of the land, the dream of a shaman, then the perspective of a white detective, Parris. The second chapter has a child, Sarah, and her memories of a dream when she was even younger; then a perspective from her mother Mary; and the dreaming shaman again. Third chapter: Mary, then Sarah, then a golden eagle (I’m not even joking), Mary, and then her husband Provo. But don’t worry–Doss will drop the Mary perspective when she disappears and swing around to some other people. Lizzie the bartender; Sweetwater, the tribal chairperson; Sargent Harry, Officer Trainee Alicia, and Eddie with the wooden leg. None of these people matter at all, but it does take up at least a couple pages of space each. It’s like Doss is character-padding his book.

He also loves a portentous statement. It’s intriguing the first couple of times and to be expected as a hook. But he does it every chapter, and usually at the end of every voice in the chapter. To give him credit, is is an effective way of signalling the end of a character’s moment. Just how bad is it? Quite. Let me show you from the first two chapters: “Except… when they are not.” (and that’s not even my ellipsis for spoiler). “And this is only the beginning.” “And it won’t be long in coming.” “He shivered.” “There were more than ten.” “And then the shaman noticed… this was a very small grave.” And it goes on like that for the entire book. “But first he must redeem himself with his people.” “Then his weary soul would long for rest. And find none.”

I suppose we need those statements to help us remember this is a mystery, because it is 124 pages before we find a body. The lack of tension is notable as we are reading limited perspectives from the victim, probably the murderer (never found out), the detectives and the accused murderer. This is not one of those mysteries that will keep you awake.

Speaking of sentence fragments… I wasn’t going to go into the structure, because normally I’m not that person, but, wow. I can’t believe this was edited, or that Doss or the editor passed ninth grade English. You are only allowed to use that many fragments and ellipses if you are writing a note to yourself, or if you are a deconstructionist post-modern writer–and I’m not too sure about the former.

I’m also pretty sure you would have gone nuts over the white detective character if you had kept reading. It got a little nauseating about the time the Ute shaman recognized that the “blue-eyed Wyoming lawman was a familiar sight around Bitter Springs. The shaman’s gaze paused on Scott Parris. Now, this was a very interesting man. A man… perhaps… who was touched by the Power.” (again, not my ellipsis).

Don’t be misled by the marketing. It’s blurbed by the Denver Post with “Fans of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries will find a new home here.”

No, no we won’t, unless it’s the literary equivalent of a cardboard box home underneath the 405 with diesel as air freshener. Not that Hillerman was incredible–but he was fairly solid and steady. Doss’s narrative is a hot mess, and I can’t recommend it.

Please don’t pick this up again.



About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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5 Responses to The Shaman’s Bones by James D. Doss. Should stay buried.

  1. fromcouchtomoon says:

    I read this thinking it couldn’t possibly be that bad…. but then… it was.

    It’s probably just self-pubbed, no self-respecting publisher would market such head-hopping, ellipses-ridden tripe… but as it turns out… I was wrong.

    The author is probably in junior high!… Or is he…?…?…?

    • thebookgator says:

      I can’t … explain. Really. I looked through the GR reviews and picked an earlier book in the series with the highest … rating. I think that counts as a fair shake, right? I can only speculate that it was published right after Tony Hillerman died.

      Just like my spirit did while reading.

  2. neotiamat says:

    I cringed… just reading… that… Wow.

  3. Kirsten says:

    Love your review! I often stunned at what gets published, and even more what gets popular. It seems a device-addicted public has forgotten what comprises engaging literature.

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