Debut author Carrie Patel’s The Buried Life (2015) is a dystopic mystery set in Recoletta, a subterranean city located in…where, now? This is one of the questions that propels this breezy, engaging SF mystery.
Liesl Malone, a determined inspector for Recoletta’s municipal police, is joined by a dashing new partner named Rafe Sundar for an important case: looking into the murder of a member of the city’s ruling council. Their investigation, which takes them through the dark, murky warrens of the underground city, only scratches the surface of what turns out to be a wider conspiracy, which also entangles young Jane Lin. Jane is a laundress whose access to powerful clients in the wealthy quarter embroils her in parallel intrigues. Malone and Jane don’t know it, but they’re curiosity and determination has set them on a collision course with each other, with history, and with Recoletta’s turbulent future.
The Buried Life is a bracing and accessible read, full of nicely honed turns of phrase and entertaining banter. And I grew rather fond of its well rendered characters as they doggedly search for the truth underlying their reality. The story action is rife with compelling ingredients, from high society balls to government conspiracies, romantic encounters to action setpieces. Unfortunately, in my opinion the novel did fall down a little bit on its setting and world-building. Recoletta only came alive visually in snatches, and the deeper realities of the futuristic scenario aren’t examined in all that much detail. Chiefly concerning: why does society remain underground when the surface seems perfectly recovered from whatever catastrophe befell it in the past? A corner of my mind was hoping for an answer to this question at the end, preferably something integral to the plot, but it never quite comes. But the ride, overall, is a fun and promising one, an engaging retrofuture procedural with a winning cast. Here’s hoping the sequel addresses some of the novel’s meta-issues.