Buried Deep by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. ★★★★
Buried Deep is the fourth book in Rusch’s science fiction mystery series, the Retrieval Artist novels. The first is The Disappeared, but you could likely read Buried Deep as a stand alone if you wished. Each novel contains a separate mystery, although all are set in the same world and involve two of the same characters – Miles Flint and Noelle DeRicci.
In Buried Deep, a forensic anthropologist is summoned to Mars to inspect a human skeleton found under a section of the city belonging to the Ditsy, an alien species which practically rules Mars. The Ditsy have strong cultural taboos surrounding death, believing that all who come into contact with a body are contaminated. The forensic anthropologist soon learns that unless she can find living relatives of the dead woman to preform a ritual cleansing ceremony, she and the other investigators will be killed to cleanse the contamination. Desperate, she turns to retrieval artist Miles Flint.
Here I need to explain a bit of the background of the world. The future universe imagined by Rusch contains many different alien species and cultures, which come together for trading and diplomatic purposes under the Alliance. To allow all these species to interact, the laws state that someone who commits a crime against an alien species will be subject to that species laws, which are often far more severe than human punishments and sometimes extend to the relatives of the perceived criminals. Services called “Disappearance” companies arose, which professionally hid people from alien justice systems. Trackers are bounty hunters who go after the disappeared. The flip side of the coin is retrieval artists, who look for disappeared to notify them of important information such as an inheritance or an acquittal but who also strive to keep the disappeared safe. Miles Flint is one of these such investigators.
While the situation on Mars is developing, detective Noelle DeRicci of the Moon’s Armstrong Dome must decide whether she takes a promotion to a political position that would nominally give her authority over the entire Moon. She and Miles Flint are on opposite sides of the law even if they often agree about what the right thing is.
I find this to be the best entry to the series since the first book, largely because it finally gets back to the ideas involving the aliens which drew me in so much. Buried Deep is fast paced and almost more of a thriller than a mystery. It shows a wide range of POV to depict the ongoing chaos caused by the situation on Mars. This means that while Miles Flint is the protagonist, he has less than fifty percent of the page time. While this could have weakened the novel, I think it actually worked very well by giving a clearer picture of the developments and the relations between the humans and the Ditsy.
The Retrieval Artist series has been one of the most enjoyable and fun science fiction series I’ve come across, and it’s a pity that they are so little known. I’d highly recommend Buried Deep to anyone looking for a fast paced science fiction story involving aliens.