By September 10, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Smart Mystery, Dumb Ending

Book of Murder 2  I stopped reading The Book of Murder seventeen pages from the end.

Finishing it doesn’t really matter. I’ve stopped believing. All I can do is seriously ponder what would drive such a smart author toward the worst ending in recent memory. Guillermo Martinez is a stiff, formal writer with a Borges-like drollery and restraint, and for a mystery about mathematics, like The Oxford Murders, his tone is exactly right and his formality is an organic part of the book’s many delights.

That same stiff style doesn’t exactly work in his new book, though on the surface the two novels are similar. Both deal with perception. Both deal with murders too subtle for easy detection.

In The Book of Murder, Luciana contacts the narrator ten years after serving as his typist during a time when the narrator’s hand was in a cast. She was the treasured typist of the famous author, Kloster. The narrator remembers the few months she worked for him, his desire for her, their kiss on the last afternoon. Well, Luciana has aged poorly. Now unattractive and with every appearance of being seriously mental, she tells the narrator how she brought a sexual harassment suit against Kloster, how Kloster’s wife has left him, his baby daughter has died, and now in revenge Kloster is going after everyone who means anything to her – her boyfriend, her parents, her brother, all cleverly killed so that no one knows they’ve been murdered.

The execution of this somewhat far-fetched plot is so formal it’s almost like Greek tragedy. The characters talk in blocks of text. The language is elegant and grammatically correct. Though this weighed, academic style certainly kills some of the immediacy, the mathematically clean way the plot is laid out intrigued me enough to get through the artificiality. Because when Kloster is confronted by the author, Kloster re-tells the same story from his own point of view, with loony Luciana as the antagonist destroying his happy home.

It’s like watching an ant farm. You see the plot from Luciana’s point of view in the first part of the book, and you see all the ways in which supposedly Kloster is killing every member of her family. Then the ant farm is turned around, and you see all the little tunnels and pathways on the other side, from Kloster’s point of view. Each blames the other for destroying his/her life.

Well, I’m turning the pages. It’s a clever idea. It’s definitely got my interest. I can’t figure out who’s lying. Which is it? We’re given two sets of intersecting facts. Is Luciana insane? Is Kloster diabolical? The ending of his previous book, The Oxford Murders, is so realistic it’s like a slap in the face. No such luck here, friend. Without giving anything away, I’m sorry to inform you that the plot takes a totally unprepared-for supernatural turn and gives us a solution straight out of Stephen King.

Of course, there are still those last seventeen pages. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Martinez makes it all good in the end. Maybe the supernatural hasn’t really been at work. Maybe there’s a simple, satisfying, diabolically clever solution. I’ll never know.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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