October 08, 2013

BOOKS: Three Graves Full, Jamie Mason (2013)

Jason Getty is not a man who grabs life by the horns and lives with gusto; he is a man who watches as life happens to him. He has had precisely one moment of assertiveness in his life, a confrontation with a con man that wound up with Jason burying a body in the backyard. A year later, he's just beginning to get over his paranoia about being discovered when landscapers turn up not one, but two bodies on his property. And neither of them is the body that Jason put there.

Mason eventually fills us in on how all three of the bodies got there, and tells her story through multiple points of view -- Jason, the people left behind by the assorted corpses, the cops investigating the whole mess. They're all distinct, vivid characters with lots of personality. Mason even gets away with making "volunteer police dog" Tessa a point-of-view character, with logic and motivations that feel perfectly dog-like.

Almost half of the book takes place on a single night, a long, bleakly hilarious series of disastrous meetings that bring together all of the book's characters in a frantic chase through the countryside. It's a magnificently planned sequence, reminiscent of Hitchcock in the way that complications pile upon complications. Everyone is struggling desperately to escape their situation, and every tiny decision only pushes them deeper into it.

This is dark comedy at its best; none of the characters are wholly sympathetic or wholly evil, and there are a lot of delightful moments where you realize that you're queasily cheering for someone to get away with doing something horrible. Mason's prose is smart and witty, filled with unexpected turns of phrase and sharp observations.

Highly recommended, and all the more impressive for being a first novel.

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