“There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.” This is the first line of North Carolina author Jamie Mason’s debut novel, Three Graves Full. The first chapter is so compelling that you can’t help but keep reading this delightfully macabre tale, laced with black humour and tied up with suspense.
Every event is boxed in by a set of facts; the truth as it were. There’s the what and the when of a deed; there’s where it happened and how it was done. But it’s at the why that the liar’s margin begins. It’s from this border that we launch the justifications for everything we do, and for all that we allow to be done to us. Only our distance from the hard truth and the direction of our push – toward or away from it – is the measure of our virtue.
The protagonist, Jason Getty, is a meek and insecure widower living alone in his little house on Old Green Valley Road in suburban Stillwater, MI. Well, he’s not entirely alone…as those who live with a deep, dark secret know. He’s a murderer. But like Dexter, he’s a killer that we can empathize with as we begin to understand the circumstances surrounding the fateful night that has left his conscience in agony seventeen months later. He doesn’t eat and doesn’t sleep, but somnambulates through his boring life as an office clerk, rationalizing that “no worry has ever been invented that the mind cannot bully down into mere background noise.”
Little by little Jason finds himself relaxing and able to think about normal things. Worried about what his neighbours will think of his unkempt property, he hires a landscaping crew to clean it up. However, on the second day of the job they discover two graves in his backyard that Jason didn’t dig. Although terrified, he’s forced to call the police to deal with the grisly discovery, all the while praying that they don’t find the third grave.
Next, we meet Leah Tamblin, the grieving girlfriend of the missing young man (Reid) found buried in Jason’s backyard, whom as it turns out, was cheating on her with the married woman (Katielynn Montgomery) found buried beside him. It seems that Boyd Montgomery, a hardened redneck who named his dogs after The Beatles, didn’t take kindly to discovering that his wife was screwing another man, and from this point on, in a horrifying comedy of errors, action ensues as the plot thickens.
Detectives Tim Bayard and Ford Watts (who I envisioned as actor David Morse), accompanied by his devoted and very intelligent dog Tessa, round out the main cast of characters. After all, someone has to solve this mystery! I loved that Mason made Tessa a main character and gave her a voice (frequently written from a first person/canine viewpoint) that this dog owner could easily identify with. Chocked full of hilarious one-liners and unusually well-written and fully realized characters, Three Graves Full will make an excellent screenplay that’ll be a joy to cast, and with just the right cool soundtrack, could end up being a celluloid cult classic.
Mason’s narrative is fast-paced, sharp and scathingly witty. Her innovative story takes us on a ride not unlike the one we experience when watching a Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), Quentin Tarantino or Coen brothers’ film. Her development of Jason’s internal conflict and the inevitability of his having to face the consequences of his actions is superb. You’ll laugh and squirm at the same time as you viscerally experience the unhinging of his sanity.
Simon & Schuster were wise to buy her manuscript as Jamie Mason’s clever, unique voice and piercing prose is so much better than the average pulp fiction. When this book is released on February 12, 2013, I urge you to buy it.