Michael Joseph | 2020 (20 August) | 352p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book
Crime fiction writer and professor of mathematics Grant McAllister is enjoying his quiet retirement on a Mediterranean island. He no longer writes and hasn’t done for thirty years. But then comes the day when ambitious editor Julia Hart turns up on his doorstep. Grant’s early work is being republished and with it a collection of short crime stories that have never been published before. The two of them must work together to prepare these stories. Grant can barely remember them, they were written so long ago, but within them, as Julia reads them to him, he discusses what these stories reveal about the craft – and mathematical modelling – of crime fiction. It’s all very fascinating but as Julia reads these stories she uncovers something unexpected in them, clues, perhaps, hinting of another crime, an unsolved murder. And so begins a battle of wits between Julia and Grant. Neither should underestimate the other.
I couldn’t wait to read Eight Detectives as soon as I heard about it. I love novels that play around with the themes and tropes of genre, playing games with the characters and reader alike (thinking now of Anthony Horowitz and Stuart Turton), and so the premise of Eight Detectives is irresistible. I’m delighted to say that this is a fiendishly clever novel, a deliciously twisty mind puzzle, and it is very well written. It comprises a series of short stories, each of which are brilliant in their own right, which are then used by Julia and Grant to suit their own ends. It’s such a clever, ambitious structure that could easily have defeated an author but Alex Pavesi knows just what he’s doing.
This is one of those books that must remain a mystery beyond its appealing premise. I will say no more about its plot. But I will say that there were times when I thought I had figured out where it was going and I was always proven wrong. I’m not a reader of short stories but I really enjoyed how these tales were woven together to form a purpose. There are shocking moments, there are others that make you shiver. And there are other moments when you realise that the clues are there but you just need to know how to find them.
Eight Detectives is a fabulous piece of crime fiction in itself. It’s very Agatha Christie in some ways, which is most definitely a good thing. It then takes these stories and turns them into something else. You can almost imagine Agatha Christie enjoying the conversation. We’re not allowed too far into our two main characters’ heads. This is largely an intellectual exercise. We must go in cold, have no favourites. But it is completely compelling and engrossing. And it’s fast, as the ball is repeatedly hit back over the net. Excellent stuff! And it comes highly recommended.