WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED is a bit of a change of pace for Christopher Brookmyre. Best known for his comedic crime novels --- calling him a Scottish Donald Westlake would be a bit of a stretch, but to some extent it would be accurate --- Brookmyre approaches his book’s subject matter with a much more somber tone than he typically uses.
"[Brookmyre] tends to plow rather fertile fields, and those who pay attention to what is being discussed will find themselves amply rewarded by story’s end."
The narration proceeds along parallel plot lines that seemingly have no business converging but that ultimately do (and with good reason). The book opens with a small-time Glasgow drug dealer named Jai McDiarmid getting taken off the board in grand fashion by his former partners in crime for a serious but vague offense that becomes clearer as the book progresses. Police Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod, still smarting after being passed up for a promotion that rightfully should have been hers, is assigned to the investigation. It almost immediately stalls because the number of possible suspects constitutes a target-rich environment that clouds its focus.
In the meantime, an out-of-work actress named Jasmine Sharp is working to keep body and soul together as a private investigator for her Uncle Jim, a highly competent and very well-regarded ex-policeman. When Jim suddenly disappears, Jasmine hardly has the skill set necessary to even know where to begin. Her only clues are the presence of two files on his desk, each concerning a decades-old disappearance. The first involves three or four members of a family who seemingly vanished off the face of the earth, leaving behind one of Glasgow’s most puzzling and enduring mysteries. The other concerns the adult son of a former police officer who also seemed to have simply walked off the map. Jasmine feels that her uncle’s investigation into these cases may well be a factor in his disappearance and begins the attempt to retrace his steps, in spite of receiving a thinly veiled warning against doing so from a Glasgow policeman who comes to call. Soon enough, she is joined in the search by a quiet and seemingly dangerous man whose unpleasant demeanor belies a willingness, however sullen, to help Jasmine on her quest.
Meanwhile, Catherine finds that her own investigation unsurprisingly leads her not only into the heart of Glasgow’s dark and dangerous underworld but also into places that she never would have anticipated otherwise. And when what appears to be a terrorist attack reveals something quite different --- and then something else that is different yet again --- Catherine becomes aware that what appeared to be a singular gangland murder is only the beginning of a major problem that has its roots in the past. As the investigations converge, Catherine and Jasmine find that they each have pieces of the puzzle that will help the other, resulting in a number of resolutions for both, but particularly for Jasmine.
Those who are not used to Scottish crime fiction might find WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED to be a bit slow-moving in parts. Indeed, Brookmyre’s narration tends to meander a bit into backstories and side stories that are interesting but seemingly don’t have much to do with the matter at hand. However, he tends to plow rather fertile fields, and those who pay attention to what is being discussed will find themselves amply rewarded by story’s end. The protagonists, particularly Jasmine, are memorable, and the climax that Brookmyre sets up for them makes you hope for a return visit on his next effort. All in all, it’s a grand effort and a bit of a changeup from one of Scotland’s more prolific and reliable voices.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 17, 2012