*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph and NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: All murder mysteries follow a simple set of rules.
Grant McAllister, an author of crime fiction and professor of mathematics, once sat down and worked them all out.
But that was thirty years ago. Now he’s living a life of seclusion on a quiet Mediterranean island – until Julia Hart, a sharp, ambitious editor, knocks on his door. His early work is being republished and together the two of them must revisit those old stories.
An author, hiding from his past, and an editor, probing inside it.
But as she reads the stories, Julia is unsettled to realise that there are parts that don’t make sense. Intricate clues that seem to reference a real murder.
One that’s remained unsolved for thirty years . . .
If Julia wants answers, she must triumph in a battle of wits with a dangerously clever adversary.
But she must tread carefully: she knows there’s a mystery, but she doesn’t yet realise there’s already been a murder . . .
Eight Detectives has an excessively clever and literary concept.
Julia travels to a remote island to speak to elusive author, Grant, about editing his old mystery book for publication. Grant’s book is based on his theory that you can apply some simple mathematical rules to the genre of murder mystery fiction and come up with a finite number of permutations of what constitutes a story in that genre. To illustrate his theory he wrote seven stories and published them as a collection – The White Murders – and now the two of them sit down to read through the book together.
Alex Pavesi, therefore, presents us readers with not one mystery but eight. We get to ‘hear’ each of the stories in Grant’s collection as Julia reads them aloud to him, and then there is the additional mystery of the present day – the inconsistencies and errors in the stories in the collection, and the apparent references to a real murder that was never solved.
This tactic of layering mysteries within mysteries is intriguing and irresistible to puzzle fans, and some of the stories serve an additional delightful function in their homage to classic golden-age mystery fiction, particularly to some of Dame Christie’s more well-known plots. Not only that, but from Julia’s observations after the very first story, when it becomes clear each story has some form of structural flaw, the keen reader is perpetually on the alert to try to spot the mistakes before the editor reveals them to us.
One downside, though, of having such different stories – in style and content – is that there was something of a disjointed feel to the narrative as a whole, especially in the transitions between fiction and analysis. Combined with two main characters who are clearly uncomfortable and reserved in each other’s company, who we only get to see in fits and starts and snippets, and the overall effect is to distance the reader from the story. I was never quite able to forget that I was reading a – very clever – book. As an inevitable result, I applauded the ending for its skill, without feeling particularly invested in the characters or outcome.
I will be looking out for more from Alex Pavesi with interest, as he is clearly skilled at the mystery genre and, with such an innovative spin on the familiar tropes, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
Grant sat back, with a fingertip held to his chin, and thought about the best way to start. ‘All of these stories,’ he said, ‘derive from a research paper that I wrote in nineteen thirty-seven, examining the mathematical structure of murder mysteries. I called it The Permutations of Detective Fiction. It was published in a small journal, Mathematical Recreations. The response was positive, though it was a fairly modest piece of work. But murder mysteries were very popular at the time.’
– Alex Pavesi, Eight Detectives
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Eight Detectives is available on Amazon right now!