Review: Buried by Ellison Cooper

Buried by Ellison Cooper is the second book in the Agent Sayer Altair series, where the FBI neuroscientist is on the trail of a serial killer who’s turned up the heat on a cold case.

An FBI agent’s hike on his day off doesn’t go according to plan when his cadaver dog scents a body. No—as Max Cho discovers, it’s multiple bodies. A serial killer has been at work in the Shenandoah National Park.

Neuroscientist and Senior Special Agent Sayer Altair has just finished her six months of desk duty after her rehab for a gunshot wound to the shoulder, an injury incurred during her last deadly case. She’s looking forward to getting back in the field, but this assignment doesn’t thrill her at the start. The bodies are all skeletonized, and she wasn’t expecting her first new case to be a cold one.

But as her team begins documenting the skeletal remains, two very fresh bodies are discovered—bodies that may be connected to a pair of missing women.

Suddenly, Sayer’s case is very, very hot.

A silhouette moved purposefully around the rim of the sinkhole.

 

“Hey! Who’s up there?” Sayer called up again.

 

A faint glug glug sound became audible over the rain as a thin stream of amber liquid splashed down from above.

 

The vaporous scent of gasoline sent a shock down Sayer’s spine. An empty gas can fell to the ground near them and another stream of liquid poured into the cave.

 

Sayer thrust her finger toward the first-aid kit propped among the equipment. “Emergency blanket in there?”

 

A miasma of gas permeated the air.

 

“Hurry! Over to the chute!” Sayer shouted as she triumphantly pulled out an emergency blanket and shook it open.

 

Sayer and Dana pressed together, pulling the edges of the blanket across their bodies.

 

Time seemed to stop.

As details emerge, the situation becomes far stranger than a typical investigation. The methods of the killer seem to be wrapped up in ancient Greek rituals. The two newest women appear to have been beaten to death by another woman, yet a profiler is convinced a single man is behind everything. Could one of the missing women be an accomplice?

Meanwhile, the Quantico Hearings are unfolding in the background. Sayer and her boss, Assistant Director Janice Holt, are being offered up as sacrificial lambs in the wake of the revelation that a serial killer had been operating in the FBI for years. It doesn’t matter that Sayer and Holt helped bring him down—the politicians are determined to blame someone.

“It’s not set in stone yet, but like I said, I see the writing on the proverbial wall and it’s scrawled in our blood. I’ll be asked to resign in the next day or two and then I suspect you will be summarily fired not long after I go. They’re building an image of you as a ladder-climbing careerist in over her head and out for nothing more than power. I wanted to give you a heads-up before anything becomes official.”

 

Sayer blinked, trying to formulate a coherent response from the wild emotions bouncing around her chest like rogue bullets.

 

“Working my way up to assistant director, I had to … master some level of politicking. You made me see how cynical I’ve gotten over the years. You reminded me what the FBI is supposed to be about. Your single-mindedness is your biggest asset, but it’s also what makes you dangerous, because you can’t be won over with promises of power.”

 

Sayer finally found her voice as the ricocheting emotions focused into one clear note—fury. “You’re saying that someone corrupt is trying to take over the FBI and that there’s nothing we can do about it?”

With her job in jeopardy and time running out for the missing women, Sayer and her team race the clock to catch the killer before it’s too late.

Buried proves Cooper’s chops yet again. The anthropologist/investigator-turned-novelist clearly has the background necessary to bring Sayer and her team authentically to life; the science and FBI work are both handled deftly. While Sayer searches for the missing women, she also works on important research into sociopathy, which nicely introduces a shadowy new villain playing a much longer game than the immediate serial killer.

The characters are all intriguing on their own and equally fun as a unit. This is a diverse bunch, from biracial Sayer to Korean Cho, double-amputee Ezra, and masculine park ranger Piper. Everyone brings unique skills—Sayer’s background in neuroscience, Cho’s Pararescue and K9 experience, Ezra’s knack for computers—to the table, and it’s always refreshing to see a realistic murder mystery with several ladies in high positions and solid representation across the board.

Written in short, succinct chapters, Buried is a quick read with a great balance of dialogue vs. action. Cooper never gives us enough time to get bored or bogged down, moving the narrative at a swift clip and sprinkling in important clues and revelations at a satisfying pace. With the investigation, the Quantico Hearings, and perspective sections from the trapped women, this is a layered story that manages to keep every subplot interesting and vital.

Whether you’ve read Sayer’s previous story, Caged, or not, Buried is an exciting and solid standalone worth picking up—and perfect for fans of Kathy Reich’s Temperance Brennan series looking for a new scientific heroine to root for.

Read Ellison Cooper’s guest blog, “5 Lessons I Learned as a Murder Investigator”

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