Top critical review
Wilkie Collins rides again...on a winded horse
on April 23, 2000
Essentially a classic whodunit, "The Unburied" poses a less arduous challenge to Palliser's chameleonic style-shifting than his previous work. After a memorable exploit in Dickensian guise ("The Quincunx"), the bleak alienation of "The Sensationist", and the gleeful modern malice of "Betrayals", the author's polyhedric talent manifests through the borrowed, decently curbed pen of a Victorian sensation-novelist to bring us a gaslit murder-mystery of the 1880s, spiced by incidental academic nose-poking into earlier crimes of the Restoration period, all perpetrated in the claustrophobic gloominess of an ancient cathedral close. Two narrators, the staid historian Edward Courtine and a troubled boy named Philip, become unwilling and unwitting participants in the disagreeably sordid events of Christmas 1882; between them, they hold the key to an enigma which the reader can fully unravel only under the light shed by Philip's commentary, 37 years after the facts, on a sealed memoir left behind by the shaken Courtine.
Those who have read, say, Iain Pears' "An Instance of the Fingerpost" will find Palliser's approach to the intellectual/historical thriller competent but unoriginal, and those familiar with "real" Victorian fiction will judge his reprise of the period adequate but uncompelling. These remarks should not be interpreted as damning with faint praise, however, but more as praising with faint damns; second-best from Palliser is not really to be disdained. The mystery itself is constructed intricately enough to satisfy average detective-story conventions, although most readers will solve it at least in general outline well before Philip adds the finishing touches, and all readers will be fascinated by Palliser's attentive characterization of the earnest Courtine, his insincerely-yours friend Austin Fickling, and the insidious librarian Robert Locard.