Debut author Carrie Patel’s The Buried Life (2015) is a tale of dystopian intrigue 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. I grew rather fond of its well rendered characters as they doggedly searched 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 set-pieces. Unfortunately, in my opinion the novel did fall down a 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 came. 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.