Cross, Neil - 'Burial'
Drunken antics, guilty secrets, and a touch of the paranormal collide in this latest book from acclaimed novelist Neil Cross. BURIAL contains thematic echoes of Cross's previous work; bleak yet menacing settings, flawed characters forced into emotional and psychological maelstroms, and occasional literary flourishes. Cross was previously long-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize for ALWAYS THE SUN - a frightening tale of the steps a gentle man takes after learning his child is being bullied (apparently inspired by Cross's own Travis Bickle-style paranoia for his then-newborn son).
In contrast, BURIAL seems inspired by universal fears, and murder stats. Despite the plethora of gruesome, calculating serial killers overpopulating our bookshelves, TV and movie screens, statistics show that the majority of real-life murderers are often just drunk and angry. That fact, coupled with the common fear of waking up after a huge night on the booze wondering where you are and what you did - panic, realisation, then self-hatred for uncharacteristic behaviour the night before - sparks this fictional joy(less)ride into the human psyche.
Nathan, the aimless and initially unsympathetic protagonist, is no murderer. But he is a drunken, coked-up witness to the sudden death of 19-yr old Elise, who expires while entangled with Nathan's bizarre acquaintance Bob following a large party. Nathan, who had reluctantly attended the party (hosted by his boss, faded radio host Mark Derbyshire) as a pre-breakup sop to his overambitious girlfriend, finds himself in the woods with a dead body full of his DNA. Panicked, the pair hastily bury Elise in the woods, and for years don't speak. Then one day Bob arrives on Nathan's doorstep, convinced Elise is speaking to him from beyond the grave, and threatening to upturn Nathan's carefully constructed and atonement-inspired new life.
With the past and Elise's body both in danger of being exhumed, Nathan is swept up in a tumultuous journey to protect himself, and unsuspecting innocents not even aware of their connection to the historic crime.
Cross eschews police procedurals and forensic investigator-focused tales to instead provide reader with something arguably more 'real' - an engrossing window into the mind of a man battling with the long-buried consequences of a moment of youthful madness.
It's a bleak book in large part, populated by an unsympathetic cast, but Cross does weave an engrossing tale that is well worth reading.
Read another review of BURIAL.
Craig Sisterson, New Zealand
Craig Sisterson is a New Zealand based writer and crime fiction reviewer.