Book Review: The Buried Life by Carrie Patel

Angry Robot Books presents The Buried Life,
a fantastical mystery for fans of
Cherie Priest and China Miéville.

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“With Regency-era sensibilities and Agatha Christie’s flair for the subtle
conundrum, Patel’s debut novel introduces readers to a subterranean city of
the future, centuries after what is dubbed “The Catastrophe,” and beautifully
manages the delicate balance between entertainment and social commentary.
The subtly fantastical story is resplendent with surprisingly deep villains,
political corruption, and a gripping whodunit feel.”
– Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

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The Buried LifeThe Buried Life
Carrie Patel
Angry Robot Books, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-857665-21-8
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.

When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…

In a wondrous mix of dark fantasy, mystery and science fiction with a dash of post-apocalypse and a hearty dose of dystopia, we’re introduced to the world of Recoletta and to two women who capture the imagination from the first moment we meet them. I’m going to skim right past the plot because spoilers would abound but I’ll say this for everyone who loves books—this is a world in which books can put one in real danger.

“Other than the murder of a whitenail, the possession of unedited, unapproved texts was the most severely punished, and certainly the rarest, crime in Recoletta.”

First, let’s talk about the setting and worldbuilding. Recoletta is a subterranean city sometime several hundred years in the future. People still come and go aboveground but they choose to live below and, like all cities, Recoletta has a variety of boroughs or districts or what have you and there is a distinct class system driven by money and power. (Sound familiar?) All of this came about due to the “Catastrophe” but we don’t really know much about that, what it was or what precipitated it. Usually, I think it’s a failing when an author doesn’t tell or show us enough to let us understand the story’s world but, this time, I didn’t mind. Ms. Patel does such a good job of immersing us in this city that I could easily envision it and walk the streets along with its denizens.  I’m sure we’ll learn  more in the next book but, for right now, I’m content.

I love the major characters and can’t even say who’s my favorite of the two women but certainly one of the most compelling individuals is Roman Arnault. To say more about him would really be skating on the edge of spoilers so, suffice it to say, he’s a very complex man. Inspector Liesl Malone is a woman who believes in the law and in doing what’s necessary to solve crimes; she has a very stern no-nonsense demeanour but there’s a trace of softness in her. She is not at all happy at first when she’s saddled with a partner fresh out of training but Rafe Sundar proves early on that he’s not as useless as she fears. He brings a lightness as well as intelligence and skill to their budding work relationship as they investigate the murder of an historian and then one murder grows into more.  Seemingly on the sidelines are Jane Lin, laundress to the wealthy, and her reporter friend, Fredrick Anders. Jane’s life is about to take a major turn when she overhears things she shouldn’t and can no longer remain an “invisible” servant. Murder and political goings-on will have a definite effect on Jane, much more than she might have anticipated when she finds herself part of the investigation.

All in all, The Buried Life is an intriguing gaslight tale with a wonderful setting and characters who are far more than cardboard cutouts. I’m so glad the story will continue and that I’ll be treated to more of Carrie Patel’s work. That sequel, Renaissance Land, will be coming out next year and it’s already on my wishlist.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

An Excerpt from The Buried Life

Shrouded in a spicy-sweet smoke and leaning against the wall just outside of the sitting room was a tall, broad-shouldered man whom she presumed to be the stranger she had heard conversing with Hollens. Dressed in a loose-fitting black dinner jacket and idly smoking a cigarette, he was the embodiment of upper-class carelessness or middle-class coattail-riding. Even for an informal house call, his manner in the councilor’s home was cavalier, which led her to suppose the former. His jacket was a size too large, his ascot hung askew around his neck, and his pants were wrinkled. She then noticed that he was watching her with interest, his dark blue eyes shining behind black, chin-length hair. She blushed.

“Red becomes you, my lady.”

Jane hesitated, thinking that there wasn’t a scrap of red anywhere on her dress or jacket, but she took his meaning and felt another wave of heat flood her face.

The stranger smiled. “I don’t believe we’ve met. Roman Arnault.” Arnault pushed away from the wall, facing her.

“I’m the, ah, laundress.”

“I’m sorry?”

Jane blinked, more uncomfortable than ever. “The laundress. I wash clothes for Councilor Hollens. Specialty items, mostly, since he has a staff, but…”

“I didn’t catch your name.”

“Oh! It’s Jane. Jane Lin.” Her fingers dug into the bundle in her arms.

Arnault gave her the kind of smile that looked as if he must have practiced it many times before. He peeled one hand from the bundle and kissed it. “A pleasure to meet you, Jane Lin, laundress.”

He said her name slowly, as if trying it out. Jane flicked her gaze downward, noticing his hands and their clean but trimmed nails. After a few moments, he followed her eyes to the cigarette between his fingers. “Cloves,” he said, holding it up for her inspection. “Care for one?”

“Oh, I wasn’t… No, thank you, Mr Arnault.”

“A lady of modest habits.”

Jane had found that when whitenails and their ilk chose to make pronouncements on her station, bearing, or character, it was best to offer nothing but the tacit confirmation of a small smile, which she did now.

Arnault’s mild tone kept what came next from sounding like a rebuke. “Miss Lin, do I look like a man who enlists the services of specialty laundresses? Or whose recommendations on the same would be trusted?”

Arnault paused, and Jane, whose repertoire of etiquette offered no guidance for this kind of conversation, listened hopefully for Lena’s footsteps. “You can disagree with me, especially if I’m so pompous as to make sweeping generalizations about you, someone I have known for all of two minutes.” He took a deep breath, and Jane felt herself do the same. “So, Jane Lin, are you ready to tell me what you really think?”

Jane heard the words come out of her mouth before she knew what she was saying. “It’s easy for you to say so when you can get away with visiting a councilor dressed like that.”

Arnault’s expression changed slowly, his eyebrows lifting and his lips drawing back.

“I’m sorry,” Jane said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

But he looked amused. “Speaking your mind is nothing to be sorry for, Miss Lin. I find a little honesty refreshing, especially in this neighborhood. So, how does a nice girl like you end up in it?”

“Everybody has dirty laundry, Mr Arnault.”

He chuckled, but in a way that suggested a private joke. “How right you are.”

“And you, sir? What kind of business are you in?”

“There’s no need to ‘sir’ me, Miss Lin. As for the business… I suppose you could say that I’m in the same line of work that you are.” He took another drag on his cigarette.

Jane looked him up and down, taking in his outfit again. “If we’re being candid, Mr Arnault, I find that hard to believe.”

“It’s a metaphor, Miss Lin.”

“Should I be honest again?”

“Always.”

“It sounds like a bad one.”

Arnault considered the clove cigarette between his fingers. “To return to your modest habits,” he said, holding the cigarette in the air between them, “you avoid these because…?”

Jane blinked. She didn’t want to mention that a habit like that was absurd for someone on her income. “They kill. From the inside.”

“So do a lot of things,” Arnault said. “And people. And just like your dirty laundry, some things are best kept private.”

He said it with a twinkle in his eye, but the memory of the overheard conversation sent flutters through Jane’s stomach. “Are you always this friendly with the domestic help, Mr Arnault?”

“I’m not friendly with anyone.”

“Then I have grossly misinterpreted our brief encounter.”

“That’s because you’re a good influence, Miss Lin, and you should stay for tea.”

Jane could not begin to fathom the reaction were she to have tea in Councilor Hollens’s home at Arnault’s invitation. “I thought you’d already enjoyed some with the councilor.”

“We shared a stronger beverage. But with a nice young lady like yourself, I’d have tea.”

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About the Author

Carrie Patel Author ShotCarrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and worked in transfer pricing at Ernst & Young for two years. She now works as a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California, where the only season is Always Perfect. You can find Carrie online at www.electronicinkblog.com and @Carrie_Patel on Twitter.


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First in a new series starring two brilliantly-realised
female protagonists in a wonderful fantasy
setting.
Book’s setting: The fantastical
underground city of Recoletta.

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Coming soon to Barnes & Noble

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