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Where the Bodies Are Buried by Christopher Brookmyre

Published by Atlantic Monthly Press on July 10, 2012 

Set in Scotland, Where the Bodies Are Buried is a carefully constructed, multi-layered mystery with convincing characters told in winning prose. Christopher Brookmyre writes Tartan Noir, but Where the Bodies Are Buried is a departure from his typical fare. His novels have tended to feature recurring characters and the noir has been brightened by more than a wee bit of comedy. Not so with Where the Bodies Are Buried.

Jasmine Sharp is a hapless young newbie private investigator employed by her Uncle Jim. When Jim disappears, Jasmine looks into the two missing persons cases he was most recently investigating: one involving Anne Ramsey's parents and baby brother, who drove away and were never seen again; the other a gangland enforcer and debt collector named Glen Fallan. Both cases are more than two decades old. Jasmine's attempt to track down Jim leads her to a mysterious character named Tron Ingrams who lives in a violent world that she is ill-equipped to inhabit.

Jai McDiarmid thinks that Tony McGill, a/k/a the Gallowhaugh Godfather, has "a face you would never get sick of kicking" but it is Jai's face that feels the boot, shortly before he's shot to death. It falls to Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod to learn who killed Jai, but she has to battle the bureaucracy within her own department to make any headway.

The two storylines develop in alternating chapters, the death toll rising in each until, about two-thirds of the way into the novel, they join together. The linked mysteries that Catherine and Jasmine unravel are good ones; the clever connection between the two stories baffled me until it was revealed. The plot is both smart and credible, an unusual combination in thrillerworld. The pace is perfect for an intellectual thriller: occasional bursts of action keep the pages turning without becoming mired in explosions and improbable gun battles.

The characters are just as strong as the story. Catherine and Jasmine are a study in contrasts. Jasmine's insecurity -- her well-founded fear that she is likely to screw up any task she undertakes -- makes her a sympathetic character. Catherine, on the other hand, is supremely confident. Having once been coerced to lie in court to cover up the blunder of a fellow officer, she's developed an independent streak that allows her to resist the demands of solidarity imposed by her peers. The male characters have less depth, but that's not a serious problem: the story belongs to the women.

The quality of Brookmyre's writing is well above the thriller norm. The dialog sounds as true as conversations overheard through an open window. Scottish accents and slang add color to the characters. Brookmyre describes the surroundings with camera lens clarity, from "the aspirational Glasgow of tourist brochures" to "a neglected-looking stretch ... like a withered appendage at the end of Argyle Street, where the chain stores and logos gave way to hand-written posters full of stray apostrophes."

The story's ending is a little too neat and the final pages drag a bit as Brookmyre labors to tie up every loose thread in a way that is designed to satisfy readers. Still, there is little to dislike about this intelligent, engaging novel.


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