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Bury this


New York Times

The violent murder of a young innocent underpins Andrea Portes’s second novel, “Bury This.” Beth Krause is the victim in a 1978 case that is revitalized in 2003, when a group of film students starts to make a documentary of her life. The question posed by one of them is: “If 25 years can discover the Internet, the cellphone, this thing the iPod, can 25 years discover the secret of a girl murdered, abandoned, by the side of the road?” But the question at the heart of “Bury This” isn’t about the possibilities brought by advances in forensic science but about the possibilities of language in the face of the ugliest truths.

Portes could have taken the story, which is based on real events, copied it down straight, titled it something like “Pretty Murder,” and had an instant best seller in a culture that gobbles up “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” with a helping of “To Catch a Predator” for dessert. Instead, Portes tells this tale of violence in spiraling prose. Her empathy shies away from nothing in the tangled lives of this small Michigan town, with a young girl tied up tight in the center.

Bury This” begins with the snowplow driver who finds Krause’s body, and the writing is so exquisite it is impossible to believe that Portes could sustain its impressionistic method, at once omnipresent and precise, for the remainder of the novel: “Just one doll is what’s there in the snow, in the clutter, in the shutter of light, stab stab stab through the trees.” But she does, with hardly a slip in tone as we move from character to character. We leave the prologue mourning for the snowplow driver and go on to mourn for this Michigan town, bereft after losing the beautiful Beth Krause.

Portes brings us close to Krause, to her best friend, her parents, the detective who investigated Krause’s murder as a rookie and who, thanks to the film students, returns to the case. She even brings us closer to the murder suspects. She invites us to know them, but it is never an invitation to “come stalk with me.” What Portes does in “Bury This” is less about voyeuristic thrill and more of an inspired channeling of not only the characters but the atmosphere. Everything testifies in this novel. After so many years of silence, even the Michigan landscape has a chance to speak, through the graveyard where Krause is buried:

“Then, the angel field near the gates, reserved for toddlers, infants, and children. The ground crying, too. Don’t fill me. Don’t fill me with that.”

Tales of a pretty innocent bruised and discarded cause books to fall off shelves and into shopping carts faster than deep-fried dough at half-price, but “Bury This” isn’t grimy pulp. Krause could be Any Girl U.S.A., and Portes delicately acknowledges the ripple effect of a failing economy, which crashes on the shores of Krause’s Michigan town, when anonymous muscle is brought in during a union standoff. “Bury This” doesn’t breathe life into Krause to titillate us but to allow us to participate in the mystery — of her death, yes, but also of her life and of small-town America. Portes takes a tale of personal tragedy and marries it to one of national weight. Throughout, her writing about this dirty, awful thing is so fresh it falls on readers bright and clean as north-country snow.

Hopefully Graceful

JANUARY 5, 2014 ·


I finished Bury This in two days.  I just had to find out who killed Beth Krause!

Bury This is thriller novel written by Andrea Portes.  The story takes place in small- town, Michigan.  In 1979, a young woman, Beth Krause was murdered. It was a shock to the community when her body was discovered in a snow drift.  Who would kill innocent Beth Krause? Twenty-five years later her murder is still a mystery.  It isn’t until a group of students decide to film a documentary about the unresolved murder that the case is re-examined by police.

Beth and her best friend Shauna are characters the reader can relate to.  Outwardly, Beth seems like the girl next door.  She’s the girl who goes to church every Sunday morning and sings in the church choir.  Her friend Shauna is the opposite.  She dresses provocatively, has flings with random men and likes to party.  Shauna is the type of girl who gets Beth to do things outside of her comfort zone.   Although Beth had a good girl image, she had a few secrets of her own.

Portes introduces a handful of characters into this novel.  There are strengths and weaknesses of doing so.  On a positive note, the reader gathers insight of what each character is thinking and experiencing.  On the down side, it can get confusing.  The reader goes from Beth Krause’s point of view to, Shauna, Colonel Charles Krause, the snow plower, back to Shauna, Samuel Barnett, Danek, Dotsy Krause, Danek again, all the film students now back to Dotsy…

You get my point! While the reader got insight to each characters personality and their life experiences it gets confusing after awhile.  Jumping back and forth between different characters in moderation is okay, but I feel as though Portes did this a few too many times.

Characters I particularly enjoyed learning more about was Shauna Boggs and her important role she had in her best friend’s death.  Not only were we able to see Shauna before Beth’s death but the person she transformed into after Beth died.  A cliff hanger which had me thinking “who done it” was the reaction Shauna had when she opened her Christmas gift to see a pair of suede boots her bff got her.

Throughout this book the reader is constantly getting insight to Beth’s death and the towns people dirty laundry as well.  This small-town isn’t that quaint and charming as it may appear on the outside. Portes wrote in a captivating poetic way which was unique and stunning.

I recommend Bury This to anyone who wants to indulge in a great murder mystery.

NW Book Lovers

One night in a small Michigan town in the late 1970s, a young woman named Beth leaves her job as a hotel receptionist and disappears into the snow. When the ice thaws, her remains surface by the side of the road; her unsolved murder becomes another dark moment in the town’s history. Twenty-five years later, a group of college students decide to reopen the case for a class project. 

The writing in Andrea Portes’s Bury This is appealingly lush and well-crafted, flashing between past and present as the students conduct interview after interview in the hopes of unearthing a juicy story for their documentary film class.

In the 1970s, we follow Beth and her best friend Shauna from their early teens until the fateful day of the murder, and we begin to see how one girl ended up dead and the other ended up depressed and alone, waiting for her turn to be released from a purgatory-like life. No one is innocent; behind every door there’s a sordid secret. 

Portes’s story is heavy on depraved, abusive men and desperate women with no way out, a murder mystery with many victims and no heroes. Even the college students trying to solve Beth’s death are upsettingly eager for scandal, until they realize too late the horror they have uncovered. –Emma Page, bookseller at Island Books, Mercer Island, Wash.


Discover: A lush, voyeuristic whodunit set in a small Midwestern town with plenty to hide.

— Emma Page, Island Books, for Shelf Awareness

Publishers Weekly

A new effort to close an unsolved murder case reopens old wounds in this enigmatic novel from the author of Hick and Anatomy of a Misfit. In Muskegon, Mich., 25 years have passed since a hapless snowplow operator discovered 22-year-old Elizabeth Krause’s body off Route 31.

The homicide investigation, overseen by then-rookie detective Samuel Barnett, lies dormant for decades, until a documentary made by local college students renews interest in the case. Barnett gets back in touch with Beth’s friends and family, including her stoically resigned parents, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles and Dorothy Krause, and her pitiable best friend, Shauna Boggs. With their help, Barnett hopes to put to rest a murder that has haunted the small town for too long.

Portes’s short chapters and staccato narration make for a quick and compulsive read. She is also adept at exploring her characters’ insecurities: Barnett’s fears that he has botched the case, Shauna’s envy of her virtuous best friend, and ever-innocent Beth’s longing to experience more in life. As a whodunit, the novel is somewhat lackluster, but as a study in human nature, it’s a triumph. In Muskegon, and perhaps in life, the guilty aren’t the only ones with secrets to keep.

Dallas Morning News

If one could hear novelist Andrea Portes at work typing, I think the keystrokes might sound something like machine-gun fire: rapid, furious bursts of word bullets, aimed directly at the reader’s heart and wasting no extra ammunition in getting there.

Portes’ work first gained attention with her debut, 2007’s gripping coming-of-age tale and thriller Hick. The author is from Nebraska originally, but spent some time living in Texas, so we’re calling her one of ours — and she does us proud in her follow-up novel, Bury This.

Set in small-town Michigan, this book dives even deeper into thriller territory than Hick, focusing on the murder of a young woman in 1979 and the 25-years-on reinvestigation that’s launched when a group of college students produces a documentary about the unsolved crime.

Beth Krause is mostly remembered as the ideal good girl: vaguely pretty, a bit shy, an angelic soprano in the church choir. But Beth’s thoughts about herself clue us in, a bit alarmingly, that her self-image ran far afield from the one she projected: “A young girl, almost twenty-two. With a white rat head of hair, albino hair, yes it’s a little stringy and washing it takes too long, it hurts my arms, what if someone else could wash it? Honky skin. White as paper. Almost blue. You see, a ghost. I get to be a young-looking sort of ghost with white mouse hair and gray saucer eyes and a stupid little nondescript form skinny and stringy and I’ll put a dress on me and no one will know.”

Know what? Well, that’s part of the thriller aspect, and I’m not about to give it away.

As the story plays out, we meet various others, including Beth’s best friend, Shauna Boggs, once the trampy-attractive counterpoint to Beth’s simple beauty, now a sometime prostitute weighing 300 pounds and consumed with rage and jealousy, for mostly good reasons. After Shauna’s mom left when she was little, we learn, her father elevated Shauna to household-mistress status, eventually in every way you might not want to imagine. (Warning to the squeamish: That’s not even the most disturbing thing in the book.)

Throughout, Portes creates woe-laden poetry out of things as inane as a workplace appliance. “Beth thought there would be something in that mini-fridge, something left, something gross. There always was. … Those mini-fridges always a lesson in sadness, a lesson in neglect, a lesson in who-gives-a-[expletive]-anyway. Just leave it.”

Beth’s parents — WWII veteran Charles Krause and his stunning wife, Dotsy, an Odessa, Texas, girl still able to turn heads and drop jaws in her 70s — bear unhealed emotional wounds they struggle to keep tucked away. Dotsy, with her “sable hair, ivory skin … and those green, almost emerald eyes,” causes one of the documentary makers to wonder if Beth “had inherited this grace? These willow eyes? This unassuming, intoxicating nature?

“If so,” he muses, “you could see why she was dead.”

With that sentence, Portes captures the fetid, dark essence of Bury This: some people’s seemingly unquenchable, monstrous thirst to destroy beauty. Amazingly though, in writing about it, Portes also creates something wondrous, like the glow of a single jellyfish, floating gloriously amid an endlessly dark ocean.

Follow Joy Tipping on Twitter at @joytipping.

Burlesque Press


Bury This, by Andrea Portes, and released by Soft Skull, is described on the back of the book as “a daring thriller about the murder of a young woman in small-town Michigan in 1979.”  Her case, though, is never solved, and twenty five years later a group of film students make a documentary about the incident, leading to a reopening of the case, by the original detective.  It is, indeed, a thrilling book, and the short chapters make for a fast paced read.  I would recommend picking this book up to anyone who is a fan of literary mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels a-la Gillian Flynn and Hermann Koch.

The book starts out in the head of the murdered girl, and later, we are also in the head of the murdered girl as the murder takes place.  But hers is not the only perspective we get.  We also enter the head of her mother, her father, her best friend, and one of the film students leading the filming of the documentary, not to mention the detective.  It’s quite a panoply of povs, though its not nearly as jarring as one might think leaping from pov to pov.  Rather, my criticism here would be that the author didn’t spend enough times with each character, and some who are drawn in quite strongly at the beginning fade or are never revisited towards the end.  I was drawn into this world, and horrifying as it might have sometimes been, I was hooked.

Beyond that, the book sets up a kind of fairy tale role for its female characters, but then subverts that role.  The princess is not saved.  The children are not safe at the end.  The major female characters are either much sought after, or utterly undesirable, even when they are desired, they’re rather pathetic, such as with the murdered girl, Beth’s, best friend Shauna.  So much of the book focuses on how beautiful Beth is, how beautiful her mother is, how beautiful, even, Katy, the only girl on the documentary film project is, “She didn’t notice, much, the attention…from Brad or Lars, or Danek.  Even though it was obvious.  Anyone could see it.  You’d have to be an imbecile not to see them all circled around, leaning in, facing her.”  The authors description sounds like a pack of hyenas surrounding a wounded antelope.

And the author continues drawing these lines.  Of Beth’s mother, Dorothy, Danek says, “You would not have guessed that Dorothy Krause was in her seventies.  I mean, he knew they had children early then but holy smokes.”  Danek adds that “he felt drawn to walk up the stairs behind her, into the study and stay there, in this house, in this home, for the winter.”  So even as an older woman Dorothy is still in possession of a potent beauty.  A beauty that draws men to her.  A beauty that is couched, always, in near magical terms.  A beauty that is also couched in terms of predator and prey.  Danek says, only a few short paragraphs later, “…had Beth Krause inherited this grace? …If so, you could see why she was dead.”

So within the confines of this novel beauty, and female beauty in particular, is both a powerful asset, and an inherent weakness.  It draws in men.  But not, perhaps, the right men.  Dororthy, the mother of Beth, the victim, said, “weighing the odds of her ending up with her throat slit on the street against those ice-blue eyes and a place called home with a front porch swing and a man who loved her, she knew.”  Dorothy’s own cognizance of her beauty, and its peril, saves her, physically at least.  Her daughter’s lack of knowledge imperils her, and, ultimately, serves as her downfall.  “She describes herself, in the first pages of the book, as a “French fry with eyes” and also wonders “What is my name?”  She comes across as completely out of touch with a reality that is hell bent on touching her.

Much more could be said about the characterization of both women and men in this novel.  The novel is dark.  Its characters suffer beatings, incest, poverty, and more.  Except Beth.  Beth, you know from the beginning, dies.  It’s a fascinating read.  And Portes’s use of lines is intriguingly precise.  However, the occasional use of rhyming lines was jarring for me at first.  Occasionally chapters end with lines like, “…a wife gets to stare at a portrait while, somewhere in town, a projector flickers round and round, telling how her baby girl got put six feet in the ground.”  The rhyming reoccurs at several points throughout the novel, and is too precise, and, in its way, too lovely to be accidental.  At first, I found it jarring, and trite.  However, the more I thought about the construction of the novel, the more I thought it a rather brilliant element, because it heightens the allegorical, fairy tale sense of the story.  It gives it an oral history feel, and reinforces the sense that this town has been telling this story, reliving, and perhaps living, this story for decades.

I would highly recommend picking up Bury This for anyone who enjoys strong literary fiction, and darkly twisted suspense narratives.  With its short chapters, and its compelling story, it’s a fast read.  A can’t-put-it-down, keep all the lights on kind of read.  A read that grows on you after you’ve finished.  A read that’s going to make me keep my eyes out for this author in the future, and hope you will too.