Story Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Wyatt Baker
Length: 6 hours, 46 minutes
After barely surviving a gunshot wound the last time he got mixed up in a mystery, Sebastian Snow is determined to lay low and stay out of police business. It’s been a year since he met Calvin, the two are happily in love and engaged to be married, and Sebastian has learned his lesson about letting the police do their jobs. But Sebastian staying out of trouble isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when a severed head gets delivered to him at the Emporium. There is a note in Sebastian’s box, encouraging him to track down a special artifact in exchange for a big reward. However, Sebastian has learned his lesson, and while he is very curious about what is going on, he also is done sleuthing.
As Calvin and the police dig into the case, it begins to look like the killer has had more than one victim, and has sent out multiple body parts and similar notes. It appears the case is tied up in the Victorian American Bones Wars (a competition between paleontologists) and an artifact related to one of the scientists, Edward Drinker Cope. When some of the other package recipients end up missing or dead, the threat to Sebastian looks to be a lot bigger than just receiving a gory delivery. Sebastian resists getting involved in the case; he is determined to leave it to the police. But when the killer sets their sights on Calvin, Sebastian knows he will do anything to protect the man he loves. Now, it is a race against time for Sebastian to find the killer and save Calvin before it is too late.
The Mystery of the Bones is the fourth (and reportedly last) book in C.S. Poe’s engaging Snow and Winter series. It has been about a year since Sebastian and Calvin met during the Nevermore case, and the pair have come a long way. They are in love, living together, and engaged. I really enjoy these two as a couple and Poe has done a wonderful job over the four books showing both their individual growth, as well as their development as a couple. Calvin has come out, is handling his PTSD, and is living life much more on his own terms. Sebastian has come to recognize that his insecurities are guiding a lot of his behavior and is coming to accept himself and his self worth. When the men are together, they bring out the best in each other and it is clear how much their relationship has helped them both grow. So I like these men a lot and it is nice to look back and see how far they have come.
I appreciate here that we see Sebastian finally acknowledge that he has been making bad choices and getting in way over his head by his amateur sleuthing. He also has come to see how his need to prove he is smart and skilled leads him to overcompensate by getting involved where he shouldn’t. And Sebastian does a great job of not just acknowledging that, but actually acting on this decision (minus some probing questions and attempts to get Calvin to spill details). Of course, the mystery here means that Sebastian has no choice but to get involved. The killer is not happy that they can’t draw Sebastian into the case and ultimately escalates to the point of threatening Calvin’s life. But I appreciated that we see Sebastian’s growth and maturity here as he comes to accept his own limitations (as well as how kick butt he can be when he digs into a mystery).
For me, the mystery itself was the weakest part of this story. One of the hallmarks of this series for me is the way Poe delves into the history and builds it so nicely into the mystery. But here, things seem to go not quite as deep and the backstory of the Bones Wars is not as well explored, leaving me without quite that same sense of wonder as we learn the history at the foundation of the case. We do see Sebastian pull some of those amazing connections out of his brain, those little tidbits of information that allow him to connect the dots in a way no one else can. But the mystery itself and the story behind it just didn’t see to have as much depth or twistiness as in previous books. For much of the story, Calvin and Sebastian are separated and Seb is racing to figure out the clues in time to save Calvin. But while Poe builds a dire situation here, I often felt no one was acting with the sense of urgency this ticking clock provides. Often Sebastian seems to be just hanging out, talking to people about the case, as if there isn’t a shortage of time to figure this all out. I think the biggest issue I had, however, is that things come together in a way that feels a bit random. When I read a mystery, I don’t necessarily want to figure out who did it, why, and how before it is over. But when the answers are revealed, I want to look back and be able to see the clues and what led us to that point. And here, I just felt like some of that was missing. I can’t get into more details without spoilers, but the resolution of the mystery just didn’t work well for me. So while I enjoyed the case itself, the big reveal felt sort of disappointing.
Since it sounds like this is the series end, I’ll note that some threads do tie up well here. I have enjoyed seeing the evolution of Neil and Sebastian’s relationship, in particular, and that gets advanced here as well. But the ending of the story comes together quickly, and for a series finale, it felt too abrupt. For example, we meet Calvin’s brother and there is a side story about some possible reconnection with his family that never gets addressed. And while things tie up with the wedding, it felt like the part of the story got short shrift. So if, in fact, this is the end, I do wish we had some more time after the mystery ends to really bring the personal side together, particularly since Sebastian and Calvin spend a lot of the investigation apart.
This is the second book in this series I have listened to in audio with narrator Wyatt Baker (the first two books had a different narrator). I will say that his narration has grown on me and overall works well. There were still times when I felt like there was not enough vocal differentiation between characters and it could be hard to untangle who was speaking during conversations. But I was able to settle into the narration better than in the previous book. I also felt like there was less of an angry, biting tone from Sebastian that sometimes felt out of place with the story. Baker captures Sebastian’s sarcasm and wit nicely, and the tone of the audio keeps pace with the ebb and flow of excitement in the story. So overall, I found this was a good audio experience and I have enjoyed listening to this series.
I have definitely enjoyed getting to know Sebastian and Calvin, and will be sad if this is the end. But I think Poe has created some really interesting characters here and some particularly unusual mysteries, and I can definitely recommend this series.