Underground by SL Grey

Murder mysteries are tricky things to write. I know this because the book I spent eight years writing that isn’t quite good enough to be published (not bitter) is a murder mystery.

The hardest thing about them, especially in a contemporary setting, is keeping all the characters in one place while you tell the story. If you’ve just murdered someone, the sensible thing would be to remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible, not wait around to be interrogated by an amateur sleuth.

That’s why most murder mysteries – and the hugely successful Midsomer Murders – tend to take place in villages. There’s an unconscious understanding that most people who live in villages are usually reluctant to leave the boundaries.

(Before any village folk come at me wielding pitchforks, I’m aware that I’m making a massive generalisation – but it’s true. The smaller the bubble, the more likely the audience is going to buy that the murderer hasn’t scarpered.)

When Agatha Christie did it, she locked a bunch of strangers on a train. When I did it, I locked a family in a remote mansion during a storm at Christmas (there was no way they were getting out of that house).

S L Grey – actually the combination of two writers – does it by bunging a bunch of strangers in a missile silo.

The idea is they’re a group of paranoid Americans who have paid for a room in the silo to wait out the end of the world – when a (generic) virus breaks out in Asia, they all head to the silo.

Once they’re all down there, there’s a death, obviously – and many arguments about who it might have been. Then there are more deaths, before near-on hysteria just before…

Well, I shan’t ruin it for anyone who does want to read it, but… this book is not what I was expecting at all. Because it was based in a silo, and with the virus happening outside, I thought we’d get something like Hugh Howey’s Wool – a more dystopian feel to the whole thing.

What we get, however is a silo that may as well be an apartment complex with a locked door and a virus that is dismissed fairly early on. The focus of the book is on the characters and the mystery. Which would be fine, except none of the characters are particularly likeable or intriguing, and the ones that are, are sidelined for the noisy rednecks.

Which leaves us with the mystery – I did keep reading on to find out what was happening, so the book succeeded in that respect, however the actual resolution is not very well executed. The answer to who/what caused the initial death is pretty much a cop-out and the reader finds out in what amounts to a footnote.

Plus, the end turns things on their head so that two of the survivors who are about the only ones you’re rooting for, actually turn out to be just as bad as all the others.

The only real mystery left unresolved is how it took TWO people to write this book.

(And yes, I did put myself on a par with Agatha Christie – I’m a literary genius. Deal with it.)

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