There’s a tendency for people to think of romantic suspense as a “slight” genre–entertaining but not very deep. In truth, the best of the genre, like the best of all genres, is anything but slight. Nancy Sartor’s debut novel, Bones Along the Hill, is a perfect example. Yes, there’s a love story–the relationship between Neva and Davis is both touching and complex–but there is much more to it than that. Set in modern-day Nashville, the novel explores love, friendship, loyalty, grief, homelessness, human trafficking, and both the worst and the best of humankind.
“[A] novel should enlarge understanding, raise awareness, plead for the less fortunate, define a better way of life, and provide a personal story so poignant it brings tears to every eye, contributing something of substance to the reader.”
The opening of the book sets the tone. It’s a sensitively written description of the protagonist, who works at a funeral home, using putty to reconstruct the face of an infant killed during a savage attack on his mother. Sartor writes beautifully, approaching the subject matter with compassion and drawing the reader deeply into Neva’s story.
Neva is still mourning the loss of her first love, high school sweetheart Gray Ledbetter, whose suicide has haunted Neva for a decade. Her current paramour, Davis, is good man equally haunted by his past–the unsolved disappearance of his younger brother Stephen. When Neva and her best friends, Moya and Zan, run afoul of human traffickers, Neva and Davis are drawn into an ever-tightening web of danger and destruction.
According to her website, the Nashville-born Sartor is “an enthusiastic graduate of Donald Maass’s Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop, Maass’s Micro Tension Workshop, and the Writer’s Police Academy.” Clearly, Sartor has taken Maass’s mantra, “Tension on every page!” to heart. The pacing of the book is excellent, and the author’s attention to her craft is evident.
But her bio only hints at the long path to publication and the formidable perseverance Sartor showed along the way. On her blog, Horrors and Hurrahs, her post on “the weird world of writers” explains the blend of soul-crushing disappointment and indomitable hope that come with this odd career we’ve chosen. There are some who would say Sartor should have given up on the book, or perhaps published it herself once it was “good enough,” but having read the final version, I’m grateful that Sartor never settled for good enough.
Read the book? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments. (No spoilers, please.)