Book, screen, stage, festival & event reviews.
Sometimes you may wish to read an absorbing novel, a bit like being at a banquet where you know the feast will last for hours and be savoured over every minute and every detail. On other occasions you may relish the thought of a shorter novel, something that is a short, sharp, shock, like a scalpel cutting through flesh in one swift move. Neil Cross's Burial falls into the latter camp and at just over 290 pages it's a bit like coming face to face with a twister in a novel (excluding a slowish start).
Burial opens with the unwelcome re-entry of Bob into Nathan's life. They have a shared past and a shared secret that Nathan would prefer to see buried forever. After they met fifteen years before, they both attended a party where a young woman went missing. She was never found, but both Bob and Nathan know what happened to her.
Nathan's reaction to that party night leads him to build a life that can only be described as "going through the motions" apart from his attempt at atonement which is based on more secrets and lies. Bob's appearance threatens to shatter the only happiness Nathan has achieved, as well as the status quo in others' lives.
Cross has been the lead scriptwriter on the BBC TV series Spooks for the two most recent seasons, therefore it comes as no surprise that the prose in Burial is lean, mean and taut, with plenty of dialogue. But it does not read like a script because the emotional reactions of the characters are well-expressed and the settings are vividly brought to life. Here, we have a prime example of "less is more" as the pages turn. Rapidly. Nothing is wrapped up in flora or superfluous description; Cross cuts to the core with narrative akin to that scalpel sweeping through flesh. A death scene in Burial has to rate as the most sordid I have ever read in a novel. I've read quite a few in this category in my time, but it's Cross's "less is more" that leads to remember this one. And I don't think I shall ever forget it.
There is more than one surprise in the ending. But it's that sort of story: it's hard to anticipate where it will go. Cross knows how to keep his readers engaged and has great ideas when it comes to plot originality. He can also you draw in with the characters; but always with realism and empathy, never sentimentality. So, if you fancy a quick read that might be achieved in one sitting and an increase in your heart rate, this one's for you.