I read my first Neil Cross book about a year ago, and since then have been seeking out other books by this remarkable writer. Neil Cross specialises in complex psychological novels in which ordinary people get involved in highly disturbing crimes. His ability to capture the horror of suburban man as he is sucked into unresolvable conflicts is second to none. I can only think of writers like Ruth Rendell or Frances Fyfield who also twist the knife into the psyche of middle-England, leading to late nights as their readers plough on through these literary nightmares to find out what happened next.
In Burial, a young man called Nathan goes to a party, where drink and drugs flow freely. Nathan is about to break up with his girl-friend and hooks up with Elise, an appealing and friendly young woman who seems to be happy take over where his previous girl-friend left off. Nathan also meets Bob, an old acquaintance who offers to drive Nathan and Elise out in his car to a remote spot where they can take more drugs and have what seems (mistakenly) to be a good time.
I have no intention of spoiling this book for other readers and must stop my description there. But it will do no harm to say that Nathan ends up years later with a horrendous situation to deal with involving the exhumation of an ancient corpse, the concealment of appalling secrets from his wife, and an attempt to sort out Bob, who now has a terrifying hold over him but has also degenerated into a shambling and confused wreck. Half-way through the book, the reader suddenly sees that the whole situation is so impossible for Nathan to deal with that there seems to be absolutely no resolution other than some sort of nuclear option. It is at this stage that the reader’s late nights begin.
There is so much to this book. It deals with human behaviour under extreme pressure and Neil Cross seems to have got completely into his characters as he describes their torment. I can only recommend it to anyone who has got bored with more run of the mill books.
Neil’s other books are equally as good. Always the Sun deals with a widowed father and his child moving to a new estate where the boy is soon being bullied unmercifully by the son of a problem neighbour. The father takes matters into his own hands with disastrous consequences. Natural History deals also with a family, driven towards dysfunction by financial problems and a problem teenager with a tendency to extreme violence. Both these books are as clever as Burial and I would recommend any of them as a starting point to Neil Cross’s perfect thrillers.
One additional comment I would like to make: I was interested in reading Burial to find that one of the characters is into EVP (electronic voice phenomena), the attempt to capture the voices of the dead by leaving recording equipment on for hours and then processing the recording to attempt to hear messages from beyond. I first came across this concept through reading Justine Picardie’s book, If the Spirit Move You, in which the author attempts by this means to communicate with her dead sister. This seems a fairly desperate attempt to go beyond the bounds of this life but shows the extremes of grief that some people must feel in losing a loved one.