Review: House of Bone and Rain

Gabino Iglesias delivers a propulsive supernatural thriller, House of Bone and Rain, set in San Juan on his native island of Puerto Rico, where the inequities are many: "the thing about Puerto Rico, especially if you're poor, is that there's a lot going on--death, drugs, gangs, violence--so you either grow up quickly or you don't get to grow up at all." Iglesias (The Devil Takes You Home; Zero Saints) introduces a quintet of do-or-die buddies since fourth grade: impulsive Bimbo, surfer Tavo, moody Paul, methodical Xavier, and most-of-the-time-narrator Gabe. They're "Brothers, really... like the tight-knit group of kids in a Stephen King novel, except with three brown dudes and two Black ones running around and getting in trouble." Their bond is unconditional: "if someone fucks with one of us--They fuck with all of us."

On the last day of high school classes, Bimbo's mother, Maria, is gunned down while working at the door of the Lazer Club. "Murder is an attack on someone's life, yes, but also an attack on those left behind," Gabe presciently warns. Bimbo vows revenge at her open casket. The rest pledge their cooperation to kill her killers, to "make this right." Retributions are imminent: "It was a fucking awful idea, but it made sense." Brutality and blood beget confessions that reveal an untouchable drug lord is involved. Bimbo's determination only multiplies: Maria's "death had turned her into something else, a glue that held us together." Most importantly, "mothers are sacred"--that Bimbo's is named Maria makes her even more so, channeling the original Mother Mary. The decimating deluge of Hurricane Maria--"the Big One"--further underscores Bimbo's vicious rampage.

Corpses, clairvoyants, traitors--and specters with gills!--populate Iglesias's vengeful frightfest. He writes with a steely resignation, mirroring his characters' youthful tunnel-vision that won't be tempered by (still living) mothers, struggling sisters, questioning girlfriends. He bestows only Gabe with first-person autonomy, as Gabe attempts to justify (often to himself) his, and the crew's, devotion to Bimbo's frenetic desperation. Gabe's chapters are occasionally interrupted by his girlfriend, Natalia, who's determined to escape the island and hopes Gabe will stay alive long enough to accompany her. Altagracia, Bimbo's potential spouse-of-convenience, who's been passed the gift to "see inside people" and swallows souls, briefly speaks, insisting Bimbo is no killer. Additional viewpoints, however, can only temporarily distract from--and perhaps warn against--fatal reckonings. In the end, "all stories are ghost stories." Let the haunting begin. --Terry Hong

Shelf Talker: Gabino Iglesias's dynamic thriller House of Bone and Rain wends through San Juan, Puerto Rico, chasing five teens seeking revenge for the murder of one of their own's beloved mother.

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