I’ve read plenty of murder stories. In school, I used to inhale Agatha Christie books. If you check the library, chances are you’d find my roll number on any random Agatha Christie book. (They had a slip in the front for the librarians to keep track of who borrowed which book). But lately, I’ve drifted away from classic crime to books centered in this era and those that are a bit more on the thrilling-side than the locked-room intellectual mystery side. (I wanted to diversify and read a wide variety of genres, even non-fiction!)
This book falls perfectly within the intellectual mystery category. It starts with a couple, who both accuse the other of murder. After such a thrilling short story, we immediately see the author of that story discuss the plot points of it with an editor. They reveal some very interesting observations. It’s a bit like an English class where the teacher is pointing out the salient parts of the work. It’s also a very meta moment to see the author discuss his own work in such detail. That’s the whole structure of the book: a bunch of short stories, followed by a discussion with the author and the editor.
It makes for a very quick and fast paced read. Since each story appears self-contained, you can read it instantaneously. In my case, I read it during the breaks between my online classes. A short and quick story with a surprising end, followed by a quick discussion. In some stories, you had an O Henry level twist in the very last paragraph. I have not read such mind blowing writing in a really long time.
Oh and as an Agatha Christie fan, I couldn’t help but notice the story with the “And then there were none” theme. An absolute homage to her most popular work. It also starts where the original ends. We don’t read anything much about the people who find the bodies in the original book. So in the beginning, it felt like a nice to continuation to the same story.
The first story and the ensuing discussion were remarkable. I did not expect that ending, especially since I assumed we’d read more about those characters later on. I made the false assumption of thinking this book was like other murder mysteries and not a compilation of short stories with one overarching thread. And the twist in the final paragraph, reminded me of all the O Henry short stories that I had real in school. (I even wrote and directed a play based on his story, The last leaf). Had this story not been as good, readers might not be motivated to read the subsequent stories. An excellent choice for the first chapter. And unlike conventional fiction, the author can actually jumble the chapters in this book!
But my favorite one was the final story with Lionel Moon. It was filled with suspense and the reveal turned the entire story upside down. Despite being the shortest of the stories, it totally packs a punch. And the unresolved ending about the picture, literally had me gasping out loud!!! As far as short stories go, this might just be my all-time favorite!
This book would make an excellent limited series. Especially if someone like David Tennant acted as the author discussing with Julia. I hope BBC does produce a show based on this book. Each short story would be it’s own 40 minute episode. They could use animation to point out some of the inconsistencies of each short story and the multiple endings.
(Spoilers! Scroll down for spoiler-free conclusion)
The final chapter, explaining the actual ending of each story and Julia’s reason for changing it, was astounding. Immediately, when I began the 7th story about Lionel Moon investigating a death, I knew there was something different in the writing style. Something was off; something was not quite similar to the previous short stories. It was just my intuition and I had no evidence to back it up. But turns out, this story was in fact written by the editor herself, instead of the author of the other short stories. But let’s a take a step back and see it from the perspective of the actual author of the book, Alex Pavesi.
- He had to write the overall story “The Eighth Detective”
- He had to write the short stories with their original endings (Grant’s published version)
- He had to write the version Julia read out loud to Grant/Gardner
- He had to write a separate short story with Julia’s writing style (Lionel Moon)
- He had to write a mathematical paper about murder mysteries (Mathematical academic writing is hard and this was supposed to resemble Francis Gardner’s writing style. Since the author has a PhD in Mathematics, I assume this comes easily to him.)
To top it all off, there is the original version of the stories as written by Elizabeth White, which we readers don’t read, but we can assume that it resembles Grant’s published version sans the references to her brutal murder. So as an author, he had to adopt five different writing styles into one story!!! A truly remarkable feat.
(Spoiler Free again)
As someone who had gotten tired of reading the same permutations of murder stories, the analysis of murder stories was very meta and relatable. An actual author was telling you about murder stories in clinical terms. It’s as if Agatha Christie came to Earth and decided to teach a murder mystery master class. I could relate with some stories that I had read. And I also understood why in recent years, I had drifted away to other genres. Every murder story has the same bones and after a while it becomes too predictable. Except for the few rare books like “The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton, we can’t really add much to a genre where pretty much everything has been tried and tested, a dozen times, in almost every language.
Everything comes in circles. The old wheel turns, and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again.Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Valley of Fear
But this book not only reiterates my own thoughts on the genre, it proves that there are still unique books out there waiting to be read and adored by fans. Even within the same structure, authors can come up with unique narrative styles and multiple endings, like this book. This book is truly one-of-a-kind and must be read by every classic crime buff.