This book was sent to me by Little, Brown in exchange for an honest review.
14.02.19 / Sphere (Little, Brown) / Psychological Thriller / Hardback / 464pp / 978-0751563856
Target Audience: Readers who are looking for a dark thriller with historical influences.
About The Buried Girl
A haunting, nerve-jangling psychological thriller from Sunday Times bestselling author Richard Montanari set in a small town hiding a very dark secret.
When New York psychologist Will Hardy’s wife is killed, he and his teenage daughter Bernadette move into Godwin Hall, a dusty, shut-up mansion in the small town of Abbeville, Ohio.
Meanwhile, Abbeville Chief of Police Ivy Holgrave is investigating the death of a local girl, convinced this may only be the latest in a long line of murders dating back decades – including her own long-missing sister.
But what place does Will’s new home have in the story of the missing girls? And what links the killings to the diary of a young woman written over a century earlier?
This is my first psychological thriller review of 2019 and we are off to a good start. Montanari’s The Buried Girl is a puzzling, suspenseful thriller centred around the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues and a sequence of murders spanning nearly two centuries. RM blends together an intricate murder plot with the atmosphere of a small historical American town and deeply visceral moments of grief and passion. Ramping up the tension and intrigue right until the last seconds of the novel. I especially enjoy reading new authors in the psychological thriller sub-genre because you never know how they are going to put their own stamp on the formula. Richard Montanari certainly made a great first impression on me!
The main narrative follows Professor Of Forensic Psychology Will Hardy who, along with his teenage daughter Bernadette, is leaving New York City after the horrific death of his wife at the hands of an unhinged arsonist. Will has inherited the historical Godwin Hall in Abberville, Ohio from a distant relative and is using the opportunity to quell their grief and make a fresh start. Godwin Hall is the historical centre of Abberville and it is a place of fond memories and dark pasts. The hall and the town feel familiar to Will, like he has a past here. He seeks to learn more about Godwin Hall and uncover his connections to the house and why it is so important to the town.
Events also follow Abberville Police Chief Ivy Lee Holgrave who is investigating the death of yet another lost young woman, one of many that Ivy Lee believes to be connected. There have been generations of woman going missing, including her own sister Delia who was last seen at Godwin Hall over two decades ago, and a lot of them end up dead within the town’s limits. In the memory of a sister she never saw again, Ivy Lee will find out what happened to these women. Whoever took them is operating again, and she knows that Godwin Hall has something to do with it. As more people in the town begin to turn up dead, Ivy Lee knows a bigger plan is hiding in the shadows. Can she stop a sequence of events that has been over 150 years in the making?
The Buried Girl has moments that unsettled me to my very centre, moments that definitely put my intuition to the test and moments of charm and bonding that made the dark parts not so tough to bear. It is a shame that all these classic thriller moments that will stay with me long after this review come at a cost for the rest of the book. Richard Montanari was onto something with The Buried Girl but, in my opinion, it was not as fleshed out as it could have been. There are enough great concepts or plot elements that don’t go anywhere or are glanced over that it is noticeable. I only mention this because I wanted them to go places, there are so many moments that do hit the mark that when they miss I was upset because they had so much potential.
The setting of Abberville/Godwin is the biggest evidence of this. I love a great small town thriller with plenty of atmosphere and personality but Abberville and Godwin Hall were rarely explored by the characters which was a real shame. Montanari includes enough to make the settings functional to the plot but I wanted more depth and history from a town like Abberville. The characters move around the area and interact but I genuinely wanted to explore the town and hall more. The details are there, just in snatches and small helpings that made me want to know more. More depth would have amped up the atmosphere in the town perfectly and made the second more engaging. The third act was solid and kept me on my toes which is exactly what I was looking for in this novel.
As I said before, the narrative development was strong but it does feel unfinished. I could have done with another 100 pages or so to really sink my teeth into the essence of the novel. There is enough to keep the reader content and for the plot to flow but there was serious potential for more depth and exploration of setting and themes. I wanted more! Classic greedy reader… My story highlights have to be those ‘clear as day’ thriller moments that really hit me hard. I could not get enough of those and I was impressed at RM’s clarity and emotional impact. That scene in the hospital gave me actual chills and a light addiction to Black Veil Brides (thanks for that…) The delivery was consistent, paced well and the plot was enticing, leaning on the readers intrigue for answers. The question is, is the case enough to keep both new and seasoned psychological thriller readers glued to the page? I believe so!
The murders are a show stopping element to this novel. An elaborate, precise modus operandi and generations of killings make for an interesting novel experience. It also helped that the killer was almost a third central character that we see putting together and executing their plan with passion and fearlessness. The Buried Girl is graphic, almost horror like at times which can be jarring and definitely ups the suspense steadily throughout the narrative. There are plenty of action packed moments as well. It was funny when Will talks about crime TV and movies because The Buried Girl would be an excellent TV show. If I had to compare the investigation to anything it would be Se7en (what’s in the box?). It was interesting to see the deadly sins and heavenly virtues included in a plot like this and it definitely satisfied my need for story twists.
The Buried Girl is mostly about the characters and this is exactly where this novel succeeds with ease. Will Hardy is quite the multi-dimensional lead character. His charm, expertise and crippling grief are all reasons to invest in him and Bernadette is much the same but younger and not as wise to the world yet. Their relationship goes through a multitude of tests after the murder of his wife at the hands of a patient he couldn’t help and it was emotional to watch it unfold over the course of the death, the move and getting used to the country after leaving New York. The stand-out relationship has to go to Will and Ivy Lee. I loved Ivy Lee! She is an intelligent and badass law enforcer (feels almost wild west at times) with a solid moral compass. Ivy Lee comes from three generations of police women and, while she hides her heartache at the string of missing and dead women that plague her town, Ivy Lee can handle herself just fine. Ivy Lee and Will end up working together on the most recent murder and it was definitely the point when the writing was at its strongest.
The themes are strong and well utilised. The grief and self-destructive moments from Will, Ivy Lee and Bernadette are raw and visceral. Will’s grief is at first fierce and destructive which was had a real impact on the first act of the novel. Ivy Lee’s grief at her sister’s disappearance is particularly moving and definitely added emotional depth to Ivy Lee’s character. The theme of fire is used quite a bit to great effect to show the uncontrollable nature of the mind and the destruction of lives. There is an almost divine atmosphere to the murderer’s cause which I found intriguing, feeling that every moment of every day had been leading to a particular moment in time. The historical area of the novel was fascinating but incredibly brief and also left me wanting.
Overall, I enjoyed The Buried Girl enough to review it but there were a few issues. Not enough to stop me from recommending it to everyone though! The Buried Girl is a perfect read for any psychological thriller reader with a cast of characters you can invest your time in. There is intensity, history, cleverness and gore to witness here and a compelling story of family and retribution to enjoy. I will definitely be returning to Richard Montanari’s work in the future to see what he is capable of. I will keep you posted!
About Richard Montanari
Richard Montanari was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to a traditional Italian-American family. After university, he travelled extensively in Europe and lived in London.
Returning to the US, he started working as a freelance writer for The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press, The Seattle Times, and many others. He wrote his first book, Deviant Way, in 1996 and it won the OLMA for Best First Mystery. His novel Shutter Man was named a New York Times Crime Novel of the Year for 2016, and his books have now been published in more than twenty-five languages.