Review: Three Graves Full, by Jamie Mason

15737781>>Published: February 2013

Jason wasn’t sure he could take this. He toyed with the image of falling to his knees, confessing all, and baptizing Bayard’s loafers in a flood of contrite tears. Except that would have been a lie and he wasn’t quite sure he’d be able to pull it off. He wasn’t one bit sorry that he’d killed that son of a bitch.

Mostly he avoided thinking about it—the actual killing and that the world was short one human being because of Jason Getty. The decision to hide the evidence on his property was an enormous regret, of course, especially now. But when the torture of the rest of the problem fell away, as it occasionally did, and the bottom line stared back at him, Jason tingled with triumph. There was horror and revulsion and a crippling fear of getting caught, but there was also satisfaction. He’d stopped it. He’d shut that vile mouth once and for all and wiped the smug smile off his lousy face. He’d seen that bastard’s blood on his own hands.

***

It’s been seventeen months since relatively mild-mannered widower Jason Getty killed a man in his own home and buried the corpse in his backyard. Determined to resume life as it once was, and to again appear entirely normal to his neighbours, Jason hires landscapers to come in and tidy up his property, which he’d been too ill at ease to do himself since the night—after being pushed too far for too long—he bludgeoned a con man named Gary Harris to death with a telephone.

So what do the landscapers unearth? The remains of a body, naturally, but not the body of the man Jason murdered. Another is quickly found for a total of two bodies, a man and a woman, buried beneath the flowerbeds out in front of Jason’s house. How they got there, why, and what this means for Jason’s freedom and emotional stability—and the likelihood of the discovery of the third body in his backyard—are the core story elements in author Jamie Mason’s debut novel, Three Graves Full.

A good suspense novel can hinge on many different factors. Sometimes it’s the strength of the characters and the mystery (or mysteries) they’re attempting to resolve; subversion tactics are also common, splitting perspectives until all sides are told, bringing clarity to the central conflict. Three Graves Full certainly uses the latter to good effect, splitting the narrative four or five ways (or six or seven, depending on the odd significant other and the seldom used canine point of view) as the novel races towards its climax.

The characters and mystery, unfortunately, are not overly strong. Most of the characters feel two-dimensional, and it’s the situations they’re in that inform their decisions, rather than their personalities or natural shortcomings.

Where Three Graves Full shines, however, is in how it draws in the various plot details to an almost entirely satisfying climax. As previously mentioned, the mysteries behind the three bodies in Jason’s front and back yards are not all that deep. In fact, most of the novel’s mysteries are resolved by the story’s mid-point. What remains are the cascading together of the four different stories: Jason’s history with Gary Harris, an aggressive and threatening con man; Leah Tamblin’s search for answers regarding her finance’s disappearance and subsequent demise; Boyd Montgomery’s murderous behaviour; and Detective Tim Bayard’s investigation into all of the above.

Despite being a murderer, Jason grows into a fairly likable leading man. Though at first he seems rather detestable and anxiety ridden, as the details surrounding his own crime come to light—the crime itself being almost a crime of passion with the added benefit of self-preservation—his humanity begins to break through his guilt-ridden exterior. Mason makes it possible to root for a man who has killed in not-so-cold blood—something that didn’t feel possible until he started to reveal to Leah the past he’d worked so hard to keep hidden. What feels in the beginning to be nothing more than a convenient plot device—bringing in landscapers who most certainly could do exactly what they wound up doing by unearthing something incriminating—becomes something more as Mason reveals more of Jason’s character and troubled back story. The lies are a hindrance to Jason, and the more time that passes living in the shadow of a lie, the more he becomes less and less the man he’d hoped he’d be. His call to the landscapers is a cry for help: a test of his own lies, and his willingness to accept whatever fate has in store for him.

The same depth cannot be attributed to the other characters in this novel, all of whom feel more like foils than fully realized creations. Fortunately, their limitations do little to hurt the narrative’s propulsive thrust, and Mason still manages to drive the individual threads to a satisfying if not unexpected resolution.

Mason’s writing is a bit of a mixed bag. For the novel’s first half she relies a bit too often on extraneous adjectives and descriptive devices. At times the writing disrupts the narrative’s pace with unnecessary digressions or observations, but never so much that it pulled me away from the story. The second half of the novel is a different beast—well paced and economical. Mason understands the need for brevity when drawing together the various narrative threads. One near-death stabbing in the middle of the novel and the villain’s final moments are confusingly written, but otherwise Mason’s writing well serves the story at hand.

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