A BOOK REVIEW BY DONNA BATES   |   PHOTOS PROVIDED

Phil Bayly has found a clever, thought-provoking way to introduce his new mystery.  He has flipped writing rules upside down to slowly ease us into the horror of murder. He introduces us to a very patient dead body and gives us just a shimmer of hope that our suspicions are wrong.

Back Dirt

What appears to be a straightforward whodunit: murder - investigation - crime solved, twists and turns around to include multiple victims and suspects, and even one who turns out not to be a crime victim after all.  We start out with one body, find out about another missing body and, before we know it, a third one appears.  It could sound confusing, but Bayly carefully lays out his story with precision, guiding us as we follow along.

The story is filled with understated wit hidden throughout the narrative.  As we read along, waiting for the next nugget of irony, we realize that the omniscient narrator is teasing us, watching for our hidden grimace as we recognize the subtle humor.  If you see someone reading on a park bench with the hint of a smile, check to see if the book is Back Dirt. It’s as though Bayly is letting us in on the inside jokes.

Back Dirt is filled with specific facts and information.  At times, I am not sure whether it might be historical fiction disguised as a murder mystery, or a murder mystery disguised as historical fiction.  By the end of the book, I feel like I’ve been well-educated in archeology, geography, and the Revolutionary War.  

As an upstate New Yorker, I recognize all the references to Saratoga and the Adirondacks.  I totally get that “raking leaves is a year-round undertaking,” and “I thought two cases of cow-tipping might constitute a crime up here.”

Bayly is writing what he knows.  As a reporter on assignment for news channel 13, he actually did discover a body in a river by a stone bridge.  He is fascinated by the history of the Northeast, and he has covered countless archaeological digs in the Capital District. He has a passion for what he writes about.

Bayly writes with a laid-back style that lets us slowly absorb all the nuances in his novel.  We are comfortable and at ease with the characters, familiar with their quirks. They are just like our own friends, neighbors, and old acquaintances.  Filled with amorous relationships, political posturing, jealousy, ambition, and, well, evil, it is a story that we know and love.

Back Dirt: A Murder on Skis is published by Shires Press and is for sale at Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs and Manchester, Vermont. It’s also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.


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