Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Unburied

If you are in the mood to take a little trip, I have a recommendation. How about Victorian England. Cobbled streets, kerosene lamps, churches, choirs, fog and murder set the mood for Charles Palliser's The Unburied. A middle aged historian, Dr. Courtine, visits his old friend Fickling, who is teaching at a shabby little school in the country. Courtine and Fickling had a falling out 20 years ago over an event involving Courtine's estranged wife. After all these years, Fickling has invited Courtine to visit and Courtine accepts...but why? Did Courtine accept so he could visit the famous old church in the town? To investigate a 200 year old murder? Or maybe to get some closure on the traumatic event in his own past?

Courtine's investigation into the murders and deaths of church officials 200 years in the past, is wrought with double crossing, murder and deceit. Is Fickling playing Courtine, setting him up? Is the librarian, Dr. Locard, misleading Courtine?

Palliser creates lots of questions for the reader to try and unravel, making the reader use their imagination as much as Courtine.

As Courtine sets out to find the Truth, we curl up and go along for the ride down the crooked cobbled streets, up the slanted, narrow stairs and right into the story.

"I was awakened by the Cathedral clock striking the hour, though I came to consciousness too slowly to count the chimes. The room was in darkness, the heavy curtains admitting no light that could give me a clue to the hour. I lit a candle and, with an effort of will, forced myself out of the bed and into the bonechilling cold of the unheated room. Once I was dressed I looked at my watch. It was eight o'clock! Horrified at such self-indulgence, I pulled back the frayed curtains and found the fog still thick. Even in the muddy light, the time-blackened stonework of the Cathedral was startling close to the window."

This is a heavily saturated Victorian murder mystery, but it never feels overdone. Palliser touches on all the cliches, but doesn't fall victim to them. He enhances them and develops character.

If you're going to take a trip back in time, let Palliser be your guide.

Now reading:
The Unburied by Charles Palliser

On deck:
The Six Messiahs by Mark Frost


Iliana said...

I'm always up for a trip to Victorian England. This book sounds wonderfully atmospheric. I'm adding it to my list!

Mike B. said...

I highly recommend it. I'm now going to put Palliser's The Quincunx to my TBR.