Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason, a first-time author from North Carolina, is an intriguing American suspense novel with a British feel. The dark humor and creepy ambiguity of Three Graves Full – making readers feel equal sympathy for both Jason Getty, the murderer who buried a body in his backyard, and Leah Tamblin, the crime victim whose fiance is missing and suspected dead, not to mention the police detectives assigned to the case – will be appreciated by fans of Ruth Rendell’s psychological suspense and Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels and other crime fiction where the line between good and bad, law enforcement and criminals, gets a little blurry.
Ironically, when the discovery Jason Getty has been dreading for seventeen months finally happens, it’s the discovery of a different body buried in the side yard, where the landscapers he hired to draw attention away from the back were digging, and which he had no idea was there when he bought the house almost two years before.
At first the focus of the story is on Jason Getty and Leah Tamblin, but then county police detectives Tim Bayard and Ford Watts are brought in to investigate and readers see the case from their perspective and even, at times, from the perspective of Ford’s beloved canine partner Tessa, a Labrador retriever who investigates crime scenes by nose. (Bayard and Watts banter back and forth entertainingly and have a strong partner relationship that develops over the course of the book. I could see this becoming the first book in a series.) The perspective shifts back and forth and we get flashes of the past, too, filling in the story, which takes enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing.
Here’s how the book opens:
There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard. Jason Getty had grown accustomed to the strangling night terrors, the randomly prickly palms, the bright, aching surges of adrenaline at the sight of Mrs. Truesdall’s dog trotting across the lawn with some unidentifiable thing clamped in its jaws. It had been seventeen months since he’d sweated over the narrow trench he’d carved at the back corner of his property; since he’d rolled the body out of the real world and into his dreams.
Strangely though, it wasn’t recalling the muffled crunch of bone that plagued him, nor the memory of the cleaning afterward, hours of it, all the while marveling that his heart could pound that hard for that long. No. It was that first shovelful of dark dirt spraying across the white sheet at the bottom of the grave that came to him every time he closed his eyes to sleep. Was it deep enough? He didn’t know – he wasn’t a gravedigger. Then again, in his mind he wasn’t a murderer either, but facts are facts.
While reading Three Graves Full on my Nook, I found myself highlighting pithy or ironic sentences every few pages, but the author’s wordy writing style might not appeal to readers looking for a straightforward murder mystery. And although there’s a decent amount of action and even an unusual chase scene, the story has more to do with psychology than police procedure. I would recommend Three Graves Full to fans of literary suspense authors like Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, Kate Atkinson, and Nigel McCrery.
Three Graves Full
Simon and Schuster (Gallery Books)
February 12, 2013
Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of Three Graves Full from the publisher through NetGalley.