No one ever tells Jasper Leary anything. His mother has told him to be a good boy for his aunt and uncle and that she’ll be back for him. His uncle and aunt won’t talk about his mother or her past; they just try and carry on as though everything is normal. Jasper’s father is a shadow of himself. Meanwhile, there are detectives and gangsters running around trying to find Jasper’s mother. There’s no safe place for the nine-year-old Jasper in D.M. Pulley’s The Buried Book.
In August 1952, Jasper’s mother drops the boy off with a suitcase at his uncle’s farm. She’s had to disappear before, but Althea has always come back in a day or two. This time days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months. Jasper’s father visits most Saturdays. Something is very wrong, but no one will tell Jasper anything. As The Buried Book develops, Jasper conducts his own haphazard investigation. He eavesdrops on conversations every chance he gets. He takes off from the farm to visit his grandmother’s burnt out house, the local bar, even the nearby Manitonaaha (fictional) reservation, to try and figure out where his mother went.
The titular book is Althea’s girlhood journal. When she was 14, Althea was hired out by her father to a local farmer to ostensibly help with chores. Instead, Althea delivers bootleg liquor. Unfortunately for Althea, these deliveries are the start of a very dark road that leads to the bloody events of 1952 and 1953. Jasper finds the diary in his grandmother’s house and starts reading it, finally learning part of the story behind his mother’s bad reputation. The more Jasper learns, the deadlier things get for him.
Any novel with a child narrator has to walk a fine line. One the one hand, the child narrator has to be observant and savvy enough to put together the clues to the mystery. On the other, they can’t be so precocious that they’re unbelievable. Jasper is observant and not as innocent as the adults in his life would want him to be. He’s not precocious as such, but he is extraordinarily lucky in that he overhears a lot of very interesting conversations. He always seems to be in the wrong place at the right time.
I didn’t always find The Buried Book believable, mostly because of Jasper’s too-good luck. That said, I was so interested in the mystery that I devoured the book this afternoon. The villains are brutal and terrifying and the stakes stay high throughout the book. Pulley gets her characters into such impossible situations that I had to stick around just to see if the good guys made it or not.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 23 August 2016.