Once upon a time, authors had trouble convincing publishers that people would read anything set west of the Hudson unless in Los Angeles. Fortunately, that has changed, and today readers have a great choice of regional settings combining the pleasure of reading with a sense of armchair travel across the United States. The Chicago area has many authors using their own neighborhoods as the locations for their fiction, and local attorney Gunter Kaesdorf has joined them with his debut novel, Buried Truth.
Buried Truth is set in the North Shore communities of “Forest Bluff” and “Bluff Lake,” aka Lake Forest and Lake Bluff. It tracks the efforts of young attorney Brooke Wheeler to solve the mystery surrounding two deaths. One is the unsolved murder of Lindsey Mulhane following a senior prom. The other is the death of Brooke’s former best friend, Cassie Finchman, eleven-and-a-half years later. The connection is wealthy Jeremy Wright, whom Brooke and Cassie met as college roommates. Jeremy was said to have left the high school prom with Lindsey, sparking rumors that he might have had something to do with her death.
Jeremy and Brooke developed a romantic relationship, and he promised to wait for her while she went away to law school at Georgetown. Instead of waiting, though, he married Cassie, whose sudden death revived the old rumors about Lindsey’s murder and caused many to suspect he might also have had something to do with Cassie’s death.
When Brooke returned from Georgetown to take a position with a local law firm, Cassie would have nothing to do with her—they were no longer BFFs—and Jeremy’s promise to wait had slipped his mind. However, when she heard of Cassie’s death, Brooke was reminded of how much she had treasured their friendship and decided to attend the wake. While there she encountered Cassie’s mother and Jeremy, neither of them friendly or welcoming, and found herself feeling oppressive sadness that she had never been able to rekindle her friendship with Cassie. It brought back memories that her brother Tim, Lindsey’s twin brother Danny, and Cassie’s brother Mark had all gone to the tragic prom but remained surprisingly uptight through the years about what they knew about that night. In addition, she found the mere sight of Jeremy triggered the internal meltdown which was automatic during their relationship.
All this worked together to send Brooke on a compulsive search to find out who murdered Lindsey after the prom and what, if any, connection that event had with Cassie’s death.
Kaesdorf takes great care to establish the affluent overtones of his setting with use of the proper brand names and description of the neighborhood. He tells the story in the first-person as his twenty-seven-year-old female protagonist Brooke Wheeler. This often seems awkward and causes speculation about whether the narrative would flow more realistically and naturally in a different voice.
Beyond voice, the erratic trip Kaesdorf’s protagonist takes through Buried Truth inspires this question: Why doesn’t Brooke—who managed to be admitted to the bar, graduated in the top quarter of her class at Georgetown, and got a job at a respected North Shore law firm—seem smarter about how she gets from day to day? One example: How attorneys talk and behave when in the presence of Homicide Task Squad detectives. They usually find it helpful not to swear freely at investigating police, call them names, and be obviously obstructive, no matter how much the officer may appear to deserve it. Many twenty-seven-year-old attorneys have learned that. Brooke hasn’t.
Buried Truth suffers from a lack of character development and frequent disconnects between events. The reader learns very little about the whys and how-comes for the individuals involved, especially the detective and Jeremy’s housekeeper Dorette, both of whom stretch belief and are one dimensional (for “one dimensional,” read “violent” with no explanatory detail).
Toward the end of the book when Brooke nears the end of her journey, Jeremy says, “You know, I probably should tell you about her and me.” Brooke replies, “Don’t, Jeremy. I don’t really care to know. I just wish the best for you.” Readers are foiled again here as Kaesdorf misses another chance to reveal keys to the behavior of his characters.
Brooke does eventually discover the primary murderer, and the underlying motive is not one often explored. Buried Truth is interesting from that viewpoint. But for the most part, this mystery is disappointing.
October 2013, Cambridge Books/Write Words, Inc.
$14.25, paperback, 303 pages
Learn more about Gunter Kaesdorf.
—Reviewed by Betty Nicholas