“There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.”
That’s how Jamie Mason introduces us to the central character of Three Graves Full. Jason Getty is not a man who grabs life by the horns and lives with gusto, but one who watches as life happens to him. He has had precisely one moment of assertiveness in his life, a confrontation with a con man, and that’s how Jason wound up with a body in his backyard. A year later, he's just beginning to get over his paranoia about being caught when landscapers turn up not one, but two bodies on his property. And neither is the one that Jason put there.
Mason eventually fills us in on how all three of the bodies got there, and tells her story through multiple points of view: Jason's; the woman engaged to corpse #1; the man married to corpse #2; and those of the investigating police officers. They're all distinct, vivid characters with lots of personality. Mason even succeeds in making "volunteer police dog" Tessa a point-of-view character, with logic and motivations that feel perfectly dog-like.
Almost half of the book takes place on a single night, a long, bleakly hilarious series of disastrous meetings that bring together all of the book's characters in a frantic chase through the countryside. It's a magnificently planned sequence, reminiscent of Hitchcock in the way that complications pile upon complications. Everyone is struggling desperately to escape their situation, and every tiny decision, logical as it may seem in the moment, only pushes them deeper into the mire.
This is dark comedy at its best and none of the characters is wholly sympathetic or wholly evil, plus there are a lot of delightful moments where you realize that you're queasily cheering for someone to get away with doing something horrible. Mason's prose is smart and witty, filled with unexpected turns of phrase and sharp observations.
Highly recommended, and all the more impressive for being a first novel.