Over the past few years, Megan Abbott has become not just one of my favorite new writers, but one of my favorite writers, period. Her new novel, BURY ME DEEP, is out now, and it continues a string of very potent successes. It’s one of the best novels of the year.
Inspired by the true-crime case of Winnie Ruth Judd, the infamous “Trunk Murderess”, BURY ME DEEP tells the story of Marion Seeley, who finds herself alone in Phoenix in 1930. Her husband, a doctor who has a morphine addiction, has lost his license to practice in the States, so he has to go to Mexico to be the camp doctor at a remote mine. Marion has a job as a typist at a medical clinic, and she becomes friends with one of the nurses there, whose roommate is a young woman suffering from tuberculosis. Marion spends a lot of time at the house these two friends of hers share, and she’s soon drawn into their life of wild parties. In the process, she meets Gentleman Joe Lanigan, a successful local businessman who has an ill, invalid wife, and when Marion falls in love with Lanigan despite her resolve not to, all the elements are there for a noirish yarn that pulls Marion into a harrowing spiral of crime.
Although I had heard of Winnie Ruth Judd, I didn’t know the details of the case that made her notorious, so I didn’t really know what was going to happen in this novel. And as Abbott explains in an interesting, informative author’s note at the end of the book, her story diverges from the facts of the Winnie Ruth Judd case in several important aspects, anyway. One thing I really like about Abbott’s work is that each of her four novels have been written in a distinctive voice, but there are subtle differences in that voice from book to book. In BURY ME DEEP, although it’s written in third person, the point of view is entirely Marion’s, and so the style is a languid, dreamy, romantic one for most of the book, like something from one of the love pulps of the era, but underlying it is the desperation that Marion feels at being left alone in a strange town that results in her eagerness for something or someone to latch on to. The reader gets so deep into Marion’s thoughts that it’s almost like first-person narration, and after a while you have to start wondering just how reliable that narration is. Marion’s desperation eventually turns to horror, fear, and anger, and those emotions come across in the writing so vividly that the ending of the book is very satisfying.
If I had to choose, I’d say that the terse, hardboiled prose of Abbott’s previous novel, the Edgar-winning QUEENPIN, resonates with me as a reader slightly stronger than the more deliberately-paced style of BURY ME DEEP. However, I’d sure hate to have to live on the difference. Like the rest of her books, this one drew me in and really had me flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen. Also like the rest of her books, BURY ME DEEP has a great cover, the sort that really pulls you in as well. If you like beautifully written historical noir, you can’t go wrong with BURY ME DEEP, or any of Abbott’s other novels, for that matter. Very highly recommended.
John Zacherle, R. I. P.
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