In Review: The Buried Life

A wonderfully conceived Victorian society murder in the far flung future is destroyed with a cliché B movie ending.

The Buried Life by Carrie Patel

Published by Angry Robot, March 3, 2015. Paperback of 368 pages at $7.99.

The cover: John Coulthart created this image of a Victorian city set underground combined with an overseeing eye, gas lights, a maze of streets and paths, and ancient tomes. Though this is an interpretive visual of the book’s setting, it was what caught my eye to entice me to pick this up, leading to my purchase of it. Coulthart knew what he was doing. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation — Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility. When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them.” I was looking to read an adult science fiction novel and found this in the new books section. It seemed to be a Steampunkish novel set in the future where everyone lives underground. Combined with a murder mystery, this is something I’m sure I could get into. Overall grade: A

The characters: Liesl Malone is a no-nonsense investigator. She does whatever it takes to get to the truth, even if it means bending aspects of the law. Occasionally she steps on the foot of someone higher up than her, but to expose the truth it’s worth it. I liked how her pairing with rookie Sundar brought out elements of character beyond the tough-as-nails standard. It’s a given fact that rookies paired with veterans allows easy access of backstory by the writer, and this pairing certainly does so. I enjoyed Liesl at the grand party the most as she was completely out of her comfort zone and her two interrogation scenes there were excellent. Rafe Sundar is a former actor, cum investigator recently. He is absolutely quick on his feet, thinking of ways to enter areas he and Malone cannot and he provides her with alternatives that she wouldn’t have considered. They are a perfect team. His one fallacy is that he is unable to control his emotions with his job, and he speaks without considering the repercussions on himself or his partner. Jane Lin is a laundress to the political high and mighty and the wealthy of Recoletta. She is accidentally drawn into the plot and ends up meeting Roman Arnault, who may or may not have a liking for the woman. Lin wants safety on the streets of the city, but is she willing to trust the investigators more than Arnault? She was very much in line with classic Victorian heroines and I greatly enjoyed when the novel would focus on her. Roman is a political fixer; he cleans up others’ messes or stops a problem before it can fester. He has knowledge of things that no other citizen does, but that’s because of his profession. He has an initial liking for Jane, until it seems her goals conflict with his. The question becomes will he let his heart triumph over his job, and if so, what will become of Jane? All of these characters are highly enjoyable, until the book takes a turn with Chapter 10. Overall grade: B

The settings: The underground world of Recoletta is a fantastic place of Victorian separation of classes, with the middle class angling to rise up, and the poor never able to elevate their station. The architecture is described in fine fashion, with the mansions of the rich and the police station being excellent locations. The book cover gives a brief taste of what to expect. However, once on the surface, as this book’s characters are bound to do, the key location was so ridiculous it ruined the novel for me. What was a fantastic location changed into the worse of clichés from a 1970 B movie. Overall grade: D+

The action: The way in which the investigators gather their facts was riveting. I was on pins and needles wondering how the pair would get past a roadblock of a secretary, or go where higher powers didn’t want them to look. Lin has the greatest amount of tension placed on her considering what she hears and then discovers, and every time Arnault appears it was questionable if he would kiss her or kill her. Chapter 14 has the book going in a different direction with huge violent action set pieces, that I couldn’t believe any of them. Again, it became B movie cliché. Overall grade: D+

The conclusion: This was a horrendous ending. The last 72 pages are too farfetched to be believed. I was already feeling let down by what had begun in Chapter 10, but upon reaching this book’s ending I realized I had wasted my time in reading this novel. Overall grade: F

The final line: A wonderfully conceived Victorian society murder in the far flung future is destroyed with a cliché B movie ending. I won’t be returning to any books in this series or by this author any time soon. Overall grade: D 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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