Truth Lies Buried by Lesley Welsh is published on 7 June. I was fortunate to read an advance review copy.
First off, I like the clever title, juxtaposing Truth and Lies. The addition of Buried is made very clear at the outset when a local gangster is interred in a shallow grave, thanks to Sam Riley, ex-Army, who’s doing it for a very potent reason. We’re not privy to the fact that Sam is a woman until page 25, but I don’t think this can be a spoiler as the cover features a woman: Samantha wants to spend the rest of her life with the deceased’s wife, Monica. Unfortunately, Monica also has a son, Brando – ‘Reservoir Pup’, Sam calls him: ‘just eleven years old and already a greedy, heartless little tosser.’
By now you should have a very strong flavour of the tone, the dry and dark humour of the book. To be savoured.
There are some great lines dropped in the narrative, too many to list here, but here are a few: ‘Carver’s voice always threw me, that high-pitched squeak emanating from his bulky body. Years before, a bullet in the throat had left him talking like a mouse on helium.’ Some more: ‘The Gangster, His Wife and The Lesbian.’ (p36); ‘…your knight in shining Armani,’ (p47); and ‘They say Orientals are inscrutable but they’ve got nothing on lawyers.’ (p80) Acute observation is evident, and couched in fine prose, for example: ‘Rubbish flew about like tattered birds…’ (p225)
Sure, there are clichés, but this is a first person narrative so Sam would use them, even ‘my blood ran cold’ – because that’s how most people feel and think in a threatening situation.
Throughout, Welsh captures Sam’s voice to perfection, her emotions and strength of character, notably when she undergoes a transformation as she gets to know Brando, a great wise yet vulnerable character, eleven going on thirty. A number of chapters are third-person, and these enable the reader to get into the minds and under the skin of other characters, particularly the despicable Monica. Lenka is a fine surprise, too! As Sam says, ‘She really was something else.’ (p315)
To relate the storyline in any detail would be to spoil the discoveries along the way. For there’s a dark incident in Sam’s past that has poignant bearing on her present situation. Twists and turns in the plot kept me flipping the pages, whether that’s the good suspense, the cat-and-mouse with the DI, the confrontations with the other gangland members out to carve up Monica’s inheritance. There are many instances where the tension is raised in fraught moments. Sam’s encounter with a local hood on the threshold of the house is gauged just right.
Deaths lead to more deaths, and it all starts spinning out of control among the godless… The local gangsters have to contend with Chinese triads and Russian mafia, as well. I found the action scenes to be well-choreographed, tense and believable.
Sam is a rounded character, and opinionated, too, which is good; for example, her view of the PC crowd: ‘I loathe these people, the ones who have implanted these admonitory words in our brains. What kind of screwed-up Orwellian nightmare are we living in when a simple act of human kindness comes with cautionary, defensive and even reproachful strings attached?’ (p129)
Irony, pathos, it’s all here, and Welsh is superb on relationships – the good and the bad. ‘Maybe we are all haunted in one way or another. But some of us have more persistent ghosts.’ (p248)
I’d offer one caveat: if you’re averse to raw language, then don’t read gangster novels. Truth Lies Buried contains quite a lot of swearing; this is about raw gangster environment, after all, but it never came across as gratuitous, but character- and situation-driven. And of all the gangsters we meet, perhaps Monica the Moll is decidedly the worst!
As hinted at already, despite the grimness of gangland violence and threat, there’s plenty of humour, black and light. ‘He was straight from the Ugly Agency. Looking for an interesting character for a new film are you, Mr Spielberg? Want to frighten the living daylights out of the kiddies, do you? Then I know just the man for the part.’ (p314)
There are dark moments, since this is the underbelly of what passes for the human condition: ‘… an uneasy feeling settled on her shoulders like a dark shroud and she couldn’t shake it off.’ (p337) We sense that as we read on, wanting Sam to overcome the many obstacles in her path.
Welsh has created an intriguing and likeable heroine in Sam. ‘…Some people have clean hands but dirty soul. You have dirty hands but clean soul, I think.’ – (p382) It would be a shame if we were not to meet her again.
A brilliant novel that deserves to do well, giving the likes of Martina Cole a run for her ill-gotten gains.
[A shorter review will appear on Amazon et al...]