I've always been a huge Hitchcock fan, even though I grew up well after the height of his career. Personally, I like his darker films, those with a bit of macabre humour to them, like The Trouble With Harry. It's rare to find anybody who can manage to recapture that magic - Shallow Grave is the only successful example that comes to mind - so I was cautiously optimistic when Three Graves Full came my way and I read the opening of the cover blurb:More than a year ago, mild-mannered Jason Getty killed a man he wished he’d never met. Then he planted the problem a little too close to home. But just as he’s learning to live with the undeniable reality of what he’s done, police unearth two bodies on his property—neither of which is the one Jason buried.
Much to my delight, Jamie Mason absolutely nailed the difficult mix of macabre humour and horrific suspense, weaving a story that keeps the reader on edge, never quite sure in which direction it will go. It all starts with a meek, quiet, lonely young man by the name of Jason who is still mourning the untimely death of his wife - who was planning to leave him - and who is haunted by the body he buried at the back of his property line. Too wracked with guilt to tend to his lawn, he calls in a professional landscaping service to tidy up the front yard and the sides of his house, where the discover the first body.
The discovery of the second body leads us to Leah, an equally quiet, equally lonely young woman who is still mourning the murder of her husband, and who is haunted by the the absence of a body to provide closure. It also leads us to Boyd, a man on the fringe of society with a connection to Jason's house, Leah's husband, and the second body buried beneath the window. If it all sounds convoluted and complicated, it is, but that's part of the beauty of the tale. Mason slowly unveils the life story of these characters, connecting the dots for us, while establishing their deepest motives.
Once the police begin to close in, the tension truly begins to mount, and once Jason decides he has to dig up the third body before the police do, all three characters find themselves drawn together in a case of mistaken identities, misplaced suspicious, and wrong-place/wrong-time disasters. It's the kind of story where you can see the twists coming, but can do nothing to evade them, no matter how much you cringe. With the bulk of the action taking place over about 12 hours, you just want everybody to stop, to pause, and to take a breath, but fear and guilt do not make for rational thought.
Even once the story switches from subtle mystery to over-the-top action, Mason keeps tight hold of the reigns, somehow managing to juggle all the different plot lines and character motivations. By the time we careen madly towards the conclusion, with strange alliances and fresh bodies muddying things further, the story takes a final twist, and this time you don't see it coming. It works - beautifully, in fact - with a finale that's not only rewarding on its own, but worthy of the intricate tale that proceeds it.
Extraordinarily well-done, this is a book that I would love to see filmed, but only with the right director at the helm. If you're a fan of Hitchcock, or perhaps the Coen brothers, there is a lot here to enjoy. If that opening of the cover blurb sounds at all appealing, then give it a read - you won't regret it.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins