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Friday, February 24, 2012

A Younger Norman Bates?

Buried SecretsBuried Secrets by Brandi Salazar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my favorite episodes of "Criminal Minds" stars Frankie Muniz, who grew up as "Malcolm in the Middle." In this episode, though, he is a cartoonist who watched gang members rape and kill his fiancee, and subsequently had a violent break in his personality.

After his break, he goes around the city killing people -- including the gang members who killed his fiancee. The most poignant part of the show involves the killer calling his fiancee's cell phone, over and over again, only to hear it go to voice mail. His confusion as to her whereabouts shows how far he has fallen from reality. At the end of the story, the profilers from the BAU treat the killer with gentleness, even pity.

In "Buried Secrets," five years ago, James Clearwater and his family had moved away from the town where they lived, after the disappearance of Mercy Worthington. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the family moves back, and the pattern begins again.

Now that he is back, James notices that whenever his friend A.J. spends time with a girl, she turns up missing -- and eventually dead. A.J. is everything that James is not, but sort of wants to be -- he ditches school, dresses like a heavy metal fan, and has an easy time picking up girls.

Constantly at war with his father, beset by migraines and blackouts, bothered by ghosts at night, and harassed at school by those who remember the cloud of suspicion that hung over him five years ago, James starts down a doomed path almost at the start. Despite the fact that the beautiful Jennifer Morton sees great things in James, the truth is inevitable.

In stories such as this, the better authors will show you the tension between the good person that the villain wants to be, and the awful deeds that the villain commits. Salazar does a fine job of showing James unraveling, and his illusions becoming less and less real. It would have been better to see some development with the parents, particularly in a third-person work such as this. What turn out to be two fairly static characters could have been so much more dynamic, especially given the family secret that we learn about three-fourths of the way through. Even though I had a pretty good idea of the truth about James, though, the storytelling was compelling.


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