Buried Secrets

Written by Lisa Cutts

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.

Buried Secrets
Simon & Schuster
RRP: £7.99
Released: November 2 2017

Buried Secrets’ most unusual feature is the structure. And that structure has much to do with author Cutts’ background as a top cop in Kent.

Set in the fictional town of East Rise in Kent, the novel begins with a whopper of a double death in one family. Copper Milton ‘Milo’ Bowman is killed in a car accident on the same day his wife Linda is found murdered in their kitchen.

Three quarters of the action plays out in a compressed time frame spanning a tense week in June. As various clocks tick and tock, colleagues-turned-investigators race to piece together the facts behind the bizarre double death.

As the officers unearth evidence of Milo’s womanizing ways, they discover yet more disturbing secrets (also buried ones) about his wife Linda. The seemingly genteel housewife and mum of teenager Travis was in fact born into a family of Irish gangsters (I kept hearing Ralph Fiennes’ East End drawl from In Bruges). In witness protection, Linda was unfortunate enough to fall in love with a police officer. Though we never hear her point of view, Coutts makes it easy to imagine Linda’s constant glancing over her shoulder, literally and figuratively.  

Adding further spice to the mix of gangster’s molls and horny coppers are Travis Bowman and Aiden Bloomfield. Neighbours as well as friends, these two lads develop crushes on each other’s mothers and in a believable act of teen bravado, place bets on who will bed an older woman first.

The Bloomfields, we discover, have links to clan Bowman above (beyond the occasional sugar-borrowing or casual bed-hopping). This is suburbia but not from the Savills’ listings. Buried Secrets other sphere is not much more innocent and we learn, not to our surprise, more than one bobby had grounds to dislike the late Milton Bowman.

So when the investigation is complete with inquiries, arrests and consequences – it fits nicely into the compressed June time slot. Coutts deftly paces the book to convey the long hours, bad food and urgency that are the hallmarks of a murder inquiry.

And then hit stop, fast forward, hit play and we are in October, and in a courtroom.  

The reader is brought into the courtroom where one of the players mentioned is on trial for the murder of Linda. This segment of the book is just one fifth or so of the narrative and a bit of an anti-climax (which I suspect is what happens in most such trials).

In the beginning, the cops race on adrenalin to charge someone with a crime. The person is bailed or not, as the case might be. The cops get extremely drunk and then life moves onward to the next crime, and the next series of false leads, misunderstandings with success or failure. Trials happen, some are won, and some lost, while some are draws and so on.

The truncated pacing of the novel is smart. Unlike other such novels that pretend the reader doesn’t know about the gap between arrest and trial, it assumes intelligence on our part and much viewing of reality and that of fictional TV Detectives.

The half-dozen or so police officers we meet have personal lives of depth and believability. We even witness a blooming love affair between central character DC Hazel Hamilton and another officer.

The plusses to be found among these Buried Secrets are many. The minus is a key one - Cutts often ignores the “show, don’t tell” maxim which is the bedrock to building a snappy story (especially in the beginning).

Buried Secrets digs through the past with efficiency and rhythm and jolts. In laying out the present, Cutts could have used some brisk editing to rid us of the excess ‘telling’. That problem does fade as the plot progresses. Almost as if when Cutts hits her stride, she gets right into the narrative and drops the fluff.

She is a good storyteller with insight into the process of administering justice and illustrative anecdotes to burn. Her characters and her readers deserve a brisker writing style in places. I am however sure Cutts would be up the job. 

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