Bury Your Secrets - M. R. Mackenzie

With his usual clarity, precision and way of drawing you immediately into a story, it doesn't take too long for M.R. Mackenzie to put names to the three women carrying a body to a shallow grave in the woods in the prologue of Bury Your Secrets. There are a few other elements that encourage you to read further, not least of which obviously is to find out who is dead and what went so badly wrong that the three ordinary young women on a break to a remote Scottish town need to bring a body to the woods in the dark of night.

If it turned out to be Hazel's errant and arrogant husband Matthew you wouldn't be surprised but it seems unlikely. Yes, he might have been caught on cheating on Hazel with a blonde secretary in their own bedroom, but he hasn't been invited on the girls' trip evidently and she doesn't seem ready to resort to murder. Rather, Hazel has teamed up with her straight-talking hard-drinking cousin Mickie, resettled in Edinburgh from Australia, and Claire, her rather straight-laced friend who has remained close from their university days to go for a much needed weekend break.

Hastily arranged for Hazel's birthday, the only option was for a Bank Holiday weekend is a friend's holiday home in Port Catrin, a small town on the Aberdeenshire coast. The town and the unwelcoming inhabitants live down to expectations, but it's a fancy house with a well-stocked drinks cabinet. And a handsome local Aidan, who helps the girls get out of a tricky situation with the more belligerent locals in The Slaughtered Lamb, or a pub very much like it. Unfortunately, the party doesn't exactly go to plan and, as we know, the girls end up with a a dead body on their hands that they need to dispose of in the woods. Some party.

The mystery of the secret that is buried in the woods however is only the set up for the bulk of what follows in Mackenzie's latest thriller. Only three people know what has happened that night, but three years later when it all seems to have blown over, an anonymous call made from a phone box on Prince's Street in Edinburgh sets the police once more on the trail. Thereafter, Bury Your Secrets becomes more of tense psychological thriller than the murder-mystery investigation that is more typical of this author in his Anna Scavolini mysteries.

In other respects however, Bury Your Secrets is a classic M. R. Mackenzie crime thriller; tightly plotted with strong characterisation, authentic motivations and behaviours, mixed in with the requisite dose of suspicion, paranoia and murder most foul. There are lots of movie references in tribute to classic cinema, with Hitchcock foremost of course when it comes to questions of crime and guilt. With its particular blend of Scottish humour and character and a fine ear for dialogue this is up there with Chris Brookmyre and classic Val McDermid, but with a character that is very much Mackenzie's own.

Originally developed as a film script before embarking on his Anna Scavolini series, you might notice similar character types in different guises in Bury Your Secrets. Mickie, despite supposedly being of Australian origin is curiously more Scottish in her character and speech than the others and bears a certain similarity in this respect to the straight-talking, outspoken and impulsive Zoe Callaghan (Cruel Summer). Where this plays out differently here is in how she and each of the other character types react and bounce off each other, and although as individuals they have distinct personalities, it's in the dynamic between them - with Shonagh later skewing that dynamic further - that the real fascination and strength of the novel lies. 

Just as significant is the fact that this time the narrator is a killer, and that presents an interesting perspective on the kind of guilt, paranoia and fear that someone who has committed a crime has to live with as well as the strange and otherwise out of character behaviours it brings out. It's a challenge that Mackenzie meets well, considering all the angles, the killer and the victims, while still managing to remain focussed primarily on delivering a very readable and exciting thriller.


Reading notes: Bury Your Secrets by M.R. Mackenzie is published by Mad House and is available in paperback and eBook formats. I read the Kindle version from Amazon UK. I couldn't find a way of working it into the review, but I laughed out loud at 'Aye Choons' for the name of of a Scottish record store, which is a good example of the kind of humour employed in the book. Love the cover.

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