Published by Henry Holt & Company on August 4, 2020
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A thrilling, wildly inventive nesting doll of a mystery, in which a young editor travels to a remote village in the Mediterranean in the hopes of convincing a reclusive writer to republish his collection of detective stories, only to realize that there are greater mysteries beyond the pages of books.
There are rules for murder mysteries. There must be a victim. A suspect. A detective. The rest is just shuffling the sequence. Expanding the permutations. Grant McAllister, a professor of mathematics, once sat down and worked them all out - calculating the different orders and possibilities of a mystery into seven perfect detective stories he quietly published. But that was thirty years ago. Now Grant lives in seclusion on a remote Mediterranean island, counting the rest of his days.
Until Julia Hart, a sharp, ambitious editor knocks on his door. Julia wishes to republish his book, and together they must revisit those old stories: an author hiding from his past, and an editor, keen to understand it.
But there are things in the stories that don't add up. Inconsistencies left by Grant that a sharp-eyed editor begins to suspect are more than mistakes. They may be clues, and Julia finds herself with a mystery of her own to solve.
Alex Pavesi's The Eighth Detective is a cerebral, inventive novel with a modern twist, where nothing is what it seems, and proof that the best mysteries break all the rules.
If you read the blurb above for The Eighth Detective, you can see why I was drawn to the book. I adore murder mysteries and the set up here, an editor wanting to re-publish a reclusive authors detective story collection, but discovering that there’s a larger mystery to solve, sounds right up my alley. Overall, though, I was disappointed.
Granted, The Eighth Detective is unique. We all know that there are rules to murder mysteries, but here the author plays around with them and shows the variations well. For me though, it was just trying to be too clever. I like a good puzzle, I like twists, but here the author clearly planned his revelations, but by the time he let us in on what was really going on, I didn’t care. The ideas behind what makes a murder mystery a murder mystery were interesting enough, but not ground-breaking.
The book annoyed me more than anything else. It starts off with one of the stories within the story, which is overwritten with ridiculous metaphors, but okay, the writing style is to set it apart as the “fiction” inside the actual story. Then we’re introduced to Grant, an author apparently hiding on a Mediterranean Island, and Julia, the editor. Neither are particularly likeable. Julia’s fine, but we don’t get to know her well (I guess until the end, but then it’s too late to matter). Grant seems to have forgotten most of the stories he wrote 20 years ago. I did love the setting though. You could feel the heat and smell the ocean.
By the end, I was just glad to be done with the book and to know the big surprise. Eh. Maybe I should just avoid metafiction. Too often it seems like the concept trumps an enjoyable story.
That being said, I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy this one. It is clever and maybe that’s enough.