Book Review

Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi

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 is a novel that I absolutely loved, but one that I’ve found difficult to review.  Here goes. 

Thirty years ago, Grant McAllister published a collection of short stories called The White Murders which has since gone out of print.  With a publisher now looking to reissue the collection, editor Julia Hart travels to the Mediterranean island where Grant is now living to read through and discuss the stories.  It’s an excellent set up – the narrative alternates between each story in the collection followed by Julia’s dissection of the tale and the discussion between her and Grant about the decisions he made in writing that story.  About the plot, I can’t really say much more than this – it’s clear that there is more going on, but I had no idea how things were going to turn out.  Pavesi successfully teases the reader, revealing subtle hints but no more than that until the end of the novel. 

I love a book within a book, and I like the way in which Eight Detectives alternates between one of the short stories in Grant’s collection and the dissection of that tale.  As an editor, it comes as no surprise that Julia is extremely good at picking out any discrepancies and inconsistencies in each story.  Some I noticed, but others completely passed me by.  While this level of nit-picking may not sound interesting, I really enjoyed it – it was interesting to get Julia’s take on each story after I had read it and to see what clues or points I should have picked up on. And the stories themselves are excellent – they are all quite different, and some are quite dark in tone, but I thought each one was very cleverly done, evoking a golden age feel.

Grant is a former professor of mathematics, and prior to writing The White Murders worked out a set of rules that all murder mysteries follow.  These rules are quite straightforward (don’t be put off if the mathematical element isn’t your thing!) – e.g., there must be one or more victims – yet allow for a huge number of permutations, providing the variety in the genre.  In discussing each story, Grant also explains the rules he came up with, and how the story expresses those rules.  His stories cover a number of different scenarios, and at times seem a homage to some of the greats of the genre.  I loved this element of the novel – the discussion of the rules behind the genre gives Eight Detectives a unique edge, and I really enjoyed seeing how a very simple set of rules could cover all of the scenarios that one might come across in a murder mystery.

Eight Detectives is, without a doubt, a booklover’s book, and specifically one for those who enjoy crime novels and murder mysteries. I think that fans of Agatha Christie et al will get a lot out of this novel as it explores the different permutations that a murder mystery can take.  It’s a fantastic spin on traditional ideas, and I found Eight Detectives to be incredibly modern and stylish.  A treat for fans of the genre, and highly recommended. 


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