REVIEW by Ffion Lindsay

NWR Issue 106

Three Graves Full

by Jamie Mason

‘There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.’ So begins Three Graves Full – a kooky, confident debut from Jamie Mason. The novel is a story about the tragicomic misadventures of a group of mostly ordinary people. Jason is a thoroughly average Joe whose unremarkable life disintegrates after a solitary act of violence. With the literal unearthing of three bodies buried on his property, his fate becomes caught up with that of Leah, wandering through life after the loss of her fiancé. Alongside a violent outsider with a bloody past and two cookie-cutter small-town detectives, Watts and Bayard, the characters soon discover that even the most carefully constructed facades can come crashing down in a moment.

Jason is a victim through and through – terrorized by his wife, his father-in-law and by the person who later comes to be buried in his flowerbed. He is neither a good man nor a bad one, just a weak man who’s been chewed up and spat out by life. Mason’s style has been likened to that of the Coen brothers and it’s not undeserved praise. She also has chosen to focus on the passive, downtrodden everyman, rather than decisive action men like Watts.

Unfortunately, Leah is somewhat devoid of personality in contrast. Her backstory is more hurried. She acts as a kind of blank slate, a void for the reader to occupy. At the close of the novel it is she – and by extension we – who must judge the fate of the other characters.

That opening line perfectly sets the tone for a novel which is a strange hybrid – a comedy about murder. Three Graves Full is an exciting and ambitious first novel that shines when Mason gives free reign to her blackly comic imagination. The macabre image of two people struggling in an open grave, covered in corpse slime, is sure to linger in my mind. The hysterical grimness is offset by cut scenes with a plucky police dog charging off to find his owner – this dog has a far better understanding of what is going on than any of the human characters.

The novel’s greatest triumph is that it manages wit and originality in a market saturated with whodunits. Unfortunately, it is let down by poor pacing and a tendency towards overly ornate language. Mason’s quirky phrasing, which delights the reader in the first two thirds of the book, quickly becomes tiresome as the plot progresses at a snail’s pace. When it speeds up drastically in the final few chapters, I found I needed to re-read certain paragraphs, or risk losing track of what was going on completely. Despite the nail-biting finale, this book could easily be a third lighter and lose very little of its plot or charm.

Murder is often messy and so is Three Graves Full. But it fizzles with electric humour and I found it immensely entertaining. Jamie Mason is definitely one to watch.

Ffion Lindsay writes for New Welsh Review online.




       


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