The City of Recoletta is an underground metropolis that comes with a common steampunk feel; though it runs completely without the steam. I suppose that would mean it has a Victorian feel but that doesn’t really feel right either. Recoletta is one of many buries cities that sit beneath Earth after some unknown event knocked humanity out of the modern age. Unlike many post-apocalyptic tales life carried on in a fairly normal fashion – only with less technology and a reversion to a ruling class of landed aristocracy.
The Buried Life is the story of two women who find their paths entwined after a series of murders. The first, Liesl Malone plays the part of grizzled inspector with a new sidekick; a handsome young rookie named Rafe Sundar. Together they are charged with investigating the murder of a historian; shocking outwardly violent crimes don’t often affect the upper classes. This automatically places the two officers in dangerous territory. If there is one thing the ruling council doesn’t want it is the past reopened; they are investigating the death of someone who had access to stuff they are not allowed to know. After a second murder the work gets even harder; answers they find could be dangerous to the wrong people and powerful hands are obstructing them throughout.
The other young woman is Jane, a laundress who goes from worrying about being blamed for a lost button on a rich clients clothing to being thrust in the middle of a conspiracy that goes all the way up. After stumbling upon the second victim she will play a part in events to come no matter her wishes. Her stubborn streak and a sense of adventure will push her even farther in.
This is not a fantasy book, it is a murder mystery in a slightly different setting. Conspiracies and jockeying for power among the upper class leads to big problems for those down below; especially for Jane and Malone. As a mystery it holds up fairly well. It is perhaps a bit rushed, a rare book I wish had expanded on some things a bit more in the early going. But Patel was good at keeping me guessing; throwing false leads and fake trails that were plausible enough that it never felt like she was cheating. The pacing was well handled as well. It was quick enough that I read the book over two lunch breaks, and only felt rushed in terms of setting, never the plot itself.
The focus on two characters worked out well. I enjoyed the dynamic Malone had with her rookie partner especially. Despite Malone being the grizzled vet she shows more confidence than others of the same archetype I have read; judging Sundar on his skills and performance and quickly getting over her grumblings in favor of valuing her new partner. Jane is serviceable in her part of an everyday woman in a strange situation but I can’t say I ever fell in love with the character. She moved around to the spots she needed to and while she did show some moments of inspiration and competence she was more often just kind of there.
The setting should have been something that stands out but it really faded into the background. The unknown event that wrecked civilization drove people underground and most of the book takes place in the large labyrinth under a well known modern city. But this is an easily forgotten fact; it never really matters to the book and only comes up occasionally when the surface is mentioned. I didn’t like that the surface appears to be still livable, with major agriculture still carried out in the above, but it left me wondering why everyone is staying below. It was never really explained.
The Buried Life was fast and fun, had a good mystery element, and is well worth reading. There is very little bad I can say about the book. But it is also very familiar in setting and seemed to lack urgency (as subjective as that conclusion is). So it is with full confidence that I recommend reading it if you enjoy mysteries, urban settings, and discovering modern clues in a far future reality. But it is not a book I found to be all that memorable, nor am I clamoring for the next installment.
Copy for review received from publisher.