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EXTRACT: Tall Bones by Anna Bailey

Our extract this week this Tall Bones by Anna Bailey… A firecracker of a literary crime novel, set in a claustrophobic and remote Colorado town, where religion holds the biggest power and trauma lies close to the surface. 


The roar of the bonfire is hard to distinguish from the sound of the trailer-park boys and the schoolgirls who holler and dance in the shadow of the Tall Bones. It is a small- town sort of night– the last that Whistling Ridge will see for many years to come, although nobody knows this yet – in the kind of town where coyotes chew on stray cigarette butts and packs of boys go howling at the moon.

 Abigail Blake turns at the edge of the trees and smiles at Emma. This will be the memory of Abigail that stays with Emma long after the rest has been drunk away: long and pale as a moonbeam, flyaway red hairs curling gently in the damp air, hands buried deep in her sleeves, standing on the balls of her feet, like she might take off running at any moment.

 ‘I’ll be fine,’ she says. Her eyes give her away, darting ahead into the forest. They are not long into September, but fall comes quicker in the mountains, and already the early night has stolen over the pines, their opaque shadows broken only by the beam of a single flashlight.

‘But how are you going to get home?’ There’s a little dent in her brow, Emma thinks, just the right shape and size for the pad of her thumb.

‘Em.’ It’s as if she has to remember to smile again. ‘I’ll just call a cab or something. I’ll figure it out. Really, it’s fine.’ She looks at the light hovering among the trees and, behind it, the vague shape of a boy. Emma follows her gaze, but it’s too dark to make him out properly.

‘I don’t think you should go.’

Abigail’s grin looks so tight it must hurt. ‘It’s just fun, Em. Don’t worry about it.’

Emma does worry about it. She isn’t tall like Abigail, doesn’t have the same gap between her thighs like all teenage girls want; the only thing her father ever gave her was his Latino complexion, and it has dogged her all the way through school; she isn’t the kind of girl boys ask to go into the woods with them, so what would she know? But still she shakes her head as she peers into the darkness. ‘I’ll wait here for you.’

No.’ Abigail takes a deep breath and smiles firmly again. She smells of her strawberry Chapstick. ‘Come on, Em, let me live a little, huh? I’ll be fine. Promise.’

Abigail Blake is seventeen and, like all girls her age, she believes she’s going to live for ever. Deep down, Emma believes it too, and that is why she leaves her friend there, where the stomped-down grass of the field meets the trees, and slouches back out past the Tall Bones to her car. The fire is still crackling away, its light snaking off the surface of those towering pale rocks. The partygoers cheer as they smash beer cans together and hurl them on to the fire, cooing with delight as the flames whoosh higher into the dark.

Emma doesn’t look back. If she had, she might have seen Abigail hesitate, hand outstretched as if perhaps, in the end, she hadn’t really expected Emma to leave. 

 There is another young man watching her from the other side of the bonfire. He has a wicked sort of gaze, which makes Emma feel as if she’s shivering even though she isn’t. She has seen him around, lingering on the edge of town since springtime, but she knows him only by sight. A profile sharp enough to cut cocaine, dark hair brushing the collar of his worn-out leather jacket: there is something in the motion of his hips, the way he juts out his chin, that feels like he might have been a highwayman in a previous life. Evening rain has stripped back the heat of the day, and now his cigarette breath hovers in the cool air the way storm clouds do around mountain peaks. When she looks again, he is gone.

Tall Bones
by Anna Bailey
is published by
Doubleday and is