Quick thoughts: A darkly comic romp that delivers on so many levels.
After being signed up with NetGalley for a few months now, I finally stumbled across a promotional blurb that piqued my interest: “For fans of the Coen brothers’ films or for those who just love their thrillers with a dash of sharp humor—an engaging and offbeat story about a man driven to murder, who then buries the body in his backyard only to discover that there are two other shallow graves on his property.” The publishers were kind enough to send me an advance copy, and I can say in all honestly that the book lived up to every expectation raised by their marketing pitch.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a book that won out over sleep, and that makes for a mighty high recommendation of Three Graves Full in my opinion. The story takes most of its cues from the proven tradition of farcical stage plays, where characters keep bumbling into each other at the most inopportune times for maximum audience effect. And as with so many good farcical plays, the fact that you can see things coming from a mile away only serves to enhance that moment of impact.
The element of dark humour was really what caught my eye in the first place, and it was delivered in spades. This certainly isn’t a book for the squeamish reader. For anyone who can find comedy in the macabre, though, this is worth the read. There were a few laugh out loud moments, but mostly it was a simmering grin that lay smouldering just beneath the surface.
The characterization was also surprisingly good for a first novel. I sympathized with every character, whether I agreed with their actions or not. Despite the absurdities of the plot, there were elemental truths behind the characters—even the dog, who gets her own narrative point of view several times throughout the story. The prose was also rich and ambitious, full of metaphors and insights that would sit more comfortably in literary fiction than a thriller. That quality of writing leant a sense of substance to the narrative, something that certainly made it stand above an ocean of mediocrity in my mind.
Although most of the book made for a smooth and flowing read, there were a few times where I got caught flat-footed. Most of these were little things, like finally figuring out after a few chapters that “Tim” and “Bayard” were references to the same person (Tim Bayard) and not two different characters (that was especially sore when an entire chapter was later devoted to the implications of calling somebody by their last name). Another quibble was that the action tended to get a bit disorienting when three or four different storylines would begin to intertwine. The off-beat and playful narration that worked so well in every other situation wasn’t always suited to fast-paced scenes where an instant grasp of the facts is so crucial.
Overall, this was a very fun and stunningly accomplished debut. I will certainly be keeping my own eyes peeled for a follow-up novel from Jamie Mason, and I would highly recommend taking a peek for yourself when Three Graves Full hits the shelves on February 12th.
See what some other bloggers have said:
My Bookish Ways: “Mason’s prose is almost like poetry at times, and her dry, observant wit and black humor infuses the pages with that extra something that so many novels lack. Once I picked this up, I couldn’t put it down, and some of the scenes made me squirm and laugh at the same time, which is quite a feat…. For me, this was a nearly flawless debut, and I’ll look forward to anything Jamie Mason has to offer in the future.”
(And be sure to check out this great interview with the author at My Bookish Ways.)