Sunday, January 12, 2020

You Want It Darker

In the opening pages of John Blackburn’s Bury Him Darkly, we are introduced to the legend of Sir Martin Railstone. He lived most of his life in relative obscurity in the 18th century. However, late in his life, he entered an unexpected period of genius, both artistic and scientific. Rumours swirled that this was due to demonic possession, and many dark stories have circulated about him ever since. Sir Martin spent the last several years of his life furiously at work in almost total isolation. Upon his death, he decreed that all his work from this period be buried with him until the day that a (very specifically described) ancestor could lay claim to the inheritance.

Until then, the Church of England has been entrusted with the tomb and its contents. Yet due to the scandalous rumours about Sir Martin, the Church has refused to open the tomb. And now, time is running out. A new dam will leave Sir Martin’s tomb under hundreds of feet of water. Thus, a group of his devotees – including a historian, a former Nazi scientist, and a wealthy industrialist – take it upon themselves to open up the tomb before it is too late.

Bury Him Darkly is a book that has been on my shelf for far too long. John Blackburn is a terrific writer, one whose writing is colourful and engaging and, for lack of a better word, flows smoothly. Once I decided I would read this book, I found it very difficult to put down, and I had it finished within two days.

This book is not strictly speaking a mystery, but it is what I would call “genre-adjacent”. You can make an argument for this being a mystery, sci-fi, or horror. It incorporates elements from various genres. It opens up with the murder of an Anglican bishop who was opposed to opening Sir Martin’s tomb. This sets the plot into motion, and the true nature of the ensuing treasure hunt is kept under a shroud of mystery. Had Sir Martin truly been possessed by the devil? Had he gone insane? Was the tomb built to keep would-be treasure hunters out… or to keep something evil in? Each of the modern-day treasure hunters has their own idea of what is to be found in Sir Martin’s tomb, and each is explored in turn.

The result if a fast-paced, mysterious, and genuinely creepy tale that spins wildly out of control by the climax. I don’t mean that to be a criticism but say so in the best possible way. In many ways, this book reminded me of George C. Chesbro’s The Beasts of Valhalla: it begins as one type of tale and, over the course of a wild and fast-paced ride, morphs into another. If you described the book’s last act to a reader with no context whatsoever, you would get a concerned look; but if you are there for the whole ride, there is a method to the madness.

If you are someone who enjoys sci-fi, horror, and mystery, and if you are open to imaginative writing, Bury Him Darkly may be a book for you. I’m not entirely sure whether this was a masterpiece of genre fiction, but here is what I know: it has been over a year since I had the chance to read fiction for entertainment. I chose to go with this book and did not regret the choice in the least. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and, if circumstances had permitted me to do so, I would have gladly stayed up all night to finish it one sitting. This was a fun, fast-paced, and brief book with intriguing and inventive ideas splattered all over every page.

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