Old Bones by Ian Roberts

Publication Date: November 9, 2013


Old Bones by Ian RobertsOld Bones by Ian Roberts is a story of two families, one Jewish and one Catholic, who forge a friendship in politically tense London in the early part of the twentieth century.





The author, Ian Roberts, gave me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.

Old Bones is smart fiction. As a reader that enjoys and is educated in history, I had not read about the specific events outlined in the novel so I can’t say where fact ends and fiction begins. The author gives us a stranger than fiction tale written in a way that leaves the reader wanting to find out more. Roberts’s true strength shines in the narrative of the novel and is perhaps one of the few cases where I can’t imagine showing us events would be as effective as telling us. On top of its educational aspect, Roberts presents his readers with social and moral conundrums of the day in the unlikely pairing of the Jewish and Catholic families.

On page 43 of the novel, Yaakov Burim says that “(Jews should know that) History is a long game.” The simple wisdom of that statement and the way it played out in the story of Old Bones stunned this reader. Roberts’s story runs the gamut of life events and emotions. The characters experience love and loss, happiness and pain, forgiveness and vengeance. The characters are fully fitting for their time and there are progressive thinkers among them, letting the reader know that there is hope in their long game. The author has created a number of characters to live their lives with the backdrop of history and manages to keep them all unique and expertly characterized. As with meeting large families in real life, there’s confusion as to who is who and how they’re related, but as we get to know them, the reader settles into familiar comfort of a character well acquainted.

Robert’s depiction of the real historical figure Oswald Mosley is especially interesting and I sought out this character online shortly after closing the novel. While Mosley may be little known on this side of the Atlantic, he was a man who was on track to change England in what would have been terrifying. In looking for his place in the political world, Oswald recognized that Hitler had made mistakes but appreciated the success he’d experienced without resorting to any sort of violence in establishing his party. Roberts’s depicts Mosley’s complex political ideas as an idealistic nature with a somewhat misguided trajectory as it embraced fascism.

There are a number of plot points and characters that could be discussed. Old Bones is a long novel with a lot of history and a number of characters. The setting and feel of the time are beautifully portrayed. The romance of the novel is courtly and appropriate. The feel is of a full picture of an important time in English history.

The forgotten history of Old Bones is perhaps this novel’s finest virtue. The novel is written with the pen of the historian and the heart of the storyteller. Readers who are not interested in history may enjoy the pathos of this novel. Readers may also note that this review is overwhelmingly positive and that is because I have no criticism of this work. In thinking back over this masterful work, there is simply nothing negative to be said.

If you like historically based novels, read an excerpt and buy Old Bones by Ian Roberts on

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About Ian Roberts
Ian Roberts studied history at the University of Warwick and spent two years teaching in London, after which he was variously employed as a hospital porter, croupier, antique dealer’s warehouseman, research assistant and lecturer in further education. He finally returned to teaching and worked for twenty-five years at a Bradford comprehensive. For more information about Ian Roberts, visit his Unusual Western Fiction website. You can connect with him on Goodreads and Twitter @DonQuixote43rd.

Ian Roberts

This is an enormously heartening and generous review. While the book as received praise elsewhere, too these comments are particularly thorough.

I did try to highlight- although evidently not successfully enough – that Hitler’s politics were, by nature, at the least intimidating even before and en route to electoral success. He did, after all, attempt a coup in 1923. Mosley aped that side of the Nazi approach and adopted anti-semitism when he found it impossible to gain success via the ballot.


Thanks for the comment, Ian. It was a pleasure to read this novel. The politics of the day were emphasized in a way that makes clear the danger and tension in and to England. The threat was one of the jewels of this masterwork.

Ian Roberts

If you’ve managed to have a look at the three westerns yet I’d be really grateful for your comments – they don’t have to be a full blown review or comments on all of them. If not, and it’s unlikely you will get round to them could you let me know, or if they’re still on the back burner, let me have some idea of when you may be able to look at them,


I will get to them Ian and am sorry for the delay. I love westerns and am really looking forward to getting to them shortly.

Ian Roberts

Thanks. I’m grateful you’re still going to be able to fit them in. I have replaced one chapter in East Texas Blues and can send you the updated version when you’re able to look at it. Basically it shortens and makes less explicit a key point in the relationship between two of the characters: I wanted to convey their need but was uncomfortable with how I had done so.

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