Saturday, August 29, 2009

Review: BURIAL by Neil Cross

BURIAL by Neil Cross (Simon & Schuster, 2009)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Drunken antics, guilty secrets and a touch of the paranormal collide in this latest book from acclaimed Wellington-based novelist Neil Cross. Released locally this month (after first being published in the United Kingdom, Cross' former home, last year), BURIAL contains thematic echoes of Cross' previous work: bleak yet menacing settings, flawed characters forced into emotional and psychological maelstroms, and occasional literary flourishes. Cross was previously long-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize for ALWAYS THE SUN, a frightening tale of the steps a gentle man takes after learning his child is being bullied (apparently inspired by Cross' own Travis Bickle-style paranoia for his then newborn son).

In contrast, BURIAL seems inspired by universal fears, and murder stats. Despite the plethora of gruesome, calculating serial killers over-populating bookshelves and TV and movie screens, the majority of real-life murderers are actually just drunk and angry. That fact, coupled with the common fear of waking up after a drunken night - panic, realisation, then self-hatred for uncharacteristic behaviour the night before - sparks this fictional joyride into the human psyche.

Nathan, the protagonist, is no murderer. But he is a drunken, coked-up witness to the sudden death of 19-year-old Elise, who expires while entangled with Nathan's strange friend, Bob. Panicked, the pair hastily bury Elise in the woods, and for years don't speak. Then, one day, Bob arrives on Nathan's doorstep, convinced Elise is speaking to him from beyond the grave, and threatening to upturn Nathan's carefully constructed new life.

Cross eschews police procedurals or forensic investigators to instead provide the reader with something more "real" - an engrossing window into the mind of a man battling with the long-buried consequences of a moment of youthful madness.

This review was first published in print in the Nelson Mail newspaper in August 2009. BURIAL went on to become a finalist for the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel in 2010. 

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