Fresh Meat: Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason is a thriller with a twist and a macabre sense of humor (available February 12, 2013).

Three Graves Full is a crime novel that begins with a twist. Our protagonist, Jason Getty, spends the opening chapter getting over the fact that he’s killed a man and buried the corpse at the edge of his property. Just when he thinks he’s learning to live with his horrible, unpunished crime, the landscaping crew that he’s hired to do a little yard work closer to the house makes a horrific discovery, unearthing two more dead bodies that Jason had absolutely nothing to do with. The police are called in, and Jason begins to sweat his own secret murder. The investigation that follows draws in Leah Tamblin, fiancee of the dead man Jason didn’t kill, and Boyd Montgomery, a man trying to outsmart his past. The house with three graves and a multitude of secrets exerts an irresistible attraction to all three, resulting in one climactic night of mayhem and tragedy for them and for the investigators involved.

Jamie Mason inhabits the minds of each of her characters, human or animal, to give a full portrait of the murders and their repercussions. Jason, our antihero, is a sad sack driven to his breaking point. To different extents, so are Leah and Boyd, both of whom are also haunted by their dead. It’s hard not to sympathize at least a little with all three of them, as the author shows how they each try to do the best they can with the hands that fate has dealt them.

The investigators, too, are presented as fully-fleshed and sympathetic. Though you kinda want Jason to get away with murder, you also want the detectives to solve the case and get on home to their families, leading to a delicious tension as you’re never quite sure who to root for. Tim Bayard, the lead detective on the case, has a great perspective on his job, too:

He didn’t enjoy it any more than a doctor likes telling a patient he has cancer, but just as the oncologist didn’t order that first cell to replicate rampant, neither did Bayard set the fuse on a disaster that resulted in a death.

His calling was to forge a way to continue, to repair the structure and the balance. Broken spirits and the universal meaning of loss were elements to be attended to by priests and therapists, but the framework of society was order, and law. Damage to these components required expert repair.

But it isn’t all just internal monologues and philosophical musings. Three Graves Full is definitely a cinematic thriller, featuring a graveside struggle and a car chase, as well as a dog named Tessa who isn’t technically on the force but whose devotion to her master makes her a critical part of the investigation. Her participation also gives Ms. Mason the opportunity for some evocative descriptions of a rotting corpse from the dog’s point of view:

She never understood what the people knew and what they did not. It didn’t make any sense.

Now there was that same death again. It had saturated the hole behind the house, where the soil had drunk in the juice. A great deal more of it had been there on the tarp in the grass. Here was a little bit of it again. It was the deadest thing she had ever smelled. An old, strong death, wasted to the barest hint of whoever it had been and now boiling ripe with other life and process.

Three Graves Full is a multilayered, darkly humorous novel that doesn’t shy away from the slapstick or grotesque. Ms. Mason unfurls the stories of three murders and the people involved with a pace that will delight those looking for a slightly offbeat, unflinching depiction of desperation, hope and, possibly, redemption. It probably isn’t for the weak of stomach, but it does have a sardonic quality that some will love.

See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.

Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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