Monday, January 18, 2021


BURIED ALIVE by JA Kerley (Harper, 2010) 

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Soon after witnessing the escape of violent psychopath Bobby Crayline from prison, Alabaman detective Carson Ryder takes a rare break in the mountains. But his vacation is interrupted when an anonymous phone call summons him to the scene of a grisly murder. 

With more savage killings, and the heavy-handed FBI only inflaming the situation, Ryder and local detective Donna Cherry sift through the increasingly bizarre clues. Is there more than one killer on the loose? And how does Carson-s clinically insane brother, Jeremy, now on the run, fit into the picture? It is down to Ryder to unearth horrors from the past that others believe should remain buried.

I've been a big fan of Jack Kerley's Carson Ryder series since I first stumbled across his debut THE HUNDREDTH MAN as an impulse buy at a bookshop in downtown Auckland many years ago. I liked it so much I bought several other titles that same month - Kerley nicely balances dark serial killer tales with strong characterisation and evocation of the Alabama setting. Top tier stuff; I put him alongside the likes of Stuart MacBride and Paul Cleave in this realm.

The seventh in Kerley's excellent Carson Ryder series sees the young Alabama detective taking a long-overdue vacation, only to stumble onto a series of sadistic killings in rural Kentucky. 

Working both in conjunction and conflict with the local cops, Sheriff, and FBI, Carson tries to stay alive and uncover the truth while also dealing with the (welcome, for readers) reappearance of his brother Jeremy, an escaped killer himself. Are Jeremy's games helping or hindering Carson's investigation?

Kerley has a nice way with words, writing with pace and personality as he mixes interesting characters, storylines, and settings. He writes what I call 'well-balanced' crime fiction, akin to the likes of Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Val McDermid, Mark Billingham and the like where there are strong series characters (protagonists and supporting cast), strong plots, and a good sense of place - rather than one element overwhelming the others (eg the oh-so-many crime novels which have pacy and twisty plotlines with thin characters, poor dialogue and no specific sense of place). 

Ryder is a fascinating protagonist - strong and interesting enough to carry a long series, he starts off relatively young in the early books but evolves and is impacted by what occurs throughout the series. The interplay between he and his brother Jeremy adds some extra zing to a very good series. 

If I'm being picky, BURIED ALIVE isn't my favourite instalment in the series - but that's speaking from the perspective of Kerley's earlier books all being five-star, top-shelf, excellent reads. Even when he throttles down a little he still produces very good, above average crime fiction. An enjoyable read. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His first non-fiction book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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