Buried in Clay by Priscilla Masters
|Buried in Clay by Priscilla Masters|
|Reviewer: Ruth Price|
|Summary: A compelling first few chapters sadly run out of steam in this patchy novel which seems undecided about being a romance or a mystery. Some excellent insights into the world of antiques-dealing don't make up for unconvincing characterisation and occasionally sloppy writing. While easy-to-read, it's probably best for Priscilla Masters completists.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 288||Date: December 2008|
|Publisher: Allison & Busby|
Have you ever been misled by a first impression? The first few chapters of this novel by Priscilla Masters drew me in with its intriguing story – but sadly the tale loses steam and is neither fish nor fowl.
The best part is the opening chapter, when, in 1787, a potter makes his last work, a masterpiece of a jug which depicts a famous local house, Hall o'th'Wood, and his own death - which comes by hanging a few days later. In 1967, this jug is bought by antique dealer Susanna Paris, a young businesswoman with 'an eye', who clashes over the sale with the owner of the house depicted on the venerable pot. With this page-turning introduction, I felt we were in for an exciting story with lots of twists and turns and possibly some murders and bumps in the night. Instead, half-way through, I began to wish that the dreary Susanna had dropped the jug in that Chester sale-room to save us from what becomes an increasingly contrived tale. The idea was good, but its realisation has flaws – the plot loses its way. By the time this reader learnt the full story behind the macabre jug, I just didn't care.
Where Masters shines is in her description of the world of antique-dealing, which she convincingly portrays as thrilling, cut-throat and furtive. Her knowledge in this area, as a former antique-dealer, brings the descriptions of antiques and sale-room scenes, and other business dealings, to life. However, in terms of characters, I found nearly all of them one-dimensional. The heroine isn't – but she is inexplicable – and dreary. The plot frequently fails to convince and certain chapters seemed both padded and rushed. It's rather Mills & Boonian in places – so expect to find steely jawed men (well, one) with murky secrets, and a heroine unaware of her own beauty. Characters also either disappear, or are killed off a little too conveniently - for the sake of the storyline.
There's an interesting story behind this novel. It's actually the first novel Masters completed. It was never published, and the original copy was accidentally destroyed. Asked by her publisher about her early work years later, she was encouraged to rewrite the story. According to Masters, she found it easy to recall words, phrases, events she had written twenty years earlier. This may be the problem with the novel, it almost seems as if it was written in a dream and certainly suffers from sloppy writing in places – as in He was not someone I knew but a stranger and …we'd gone for a swim and I had managed twice as far as he. Words sometimes jar – a servant is described in the narrative as a Negress; callow youth pops up twice, as does festooned with flowers. I feel her editor has let her down, sadly. I've not read any of Masters' other novels, but I did look at reviews of them and she has quite a following in her crime writing. I can see that she does have a gift for story-telling, and a great sense of place, but in the case of Buried in Clay, it might have been better if her first, unpublished novel had remained buried.
Thanks to the publishers, Allison & Busby, for providing the Bookbag with Buried in Clay.
For further reading, Slipknot by Priscilla Masters was well-liked by Bookbag's reviewer, and is more typical of her story-telling style. For another novel set in the world of antiques, try The Chippendale Factor by John Malcolm.
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