Grant McAllister is an author living in seclusion when Julia Hart approaches him, wanting to republish his book. Thirty years ago he wrote a series of stories exploring the rules of the murder mystery genre, but he doesn’t seem to remember much about it. As Julia reads it back to him, something doesn’t add up. What is he hiding?
And the two men had agreed: once tasted, detection was like a drug.
Eight Detectives has been described as clever and unique, but its framing story fell flat for me. I actually enjoyed many of the seven short stories, they were eerie and had echoes of classic mysteries about them. The characters were not fleshed out but the story carried them though. These seven stories were meant to illustrate the mathematics of the murder mystery, the rules that apply to all crime fiction. I think this would have worked just as well with an introduction followed by the stories, but I guess short story collections don’t sell as well as novels.
The description implies that there are clues to a cold case within the stories, which is true if you know the details of the cold case, but these aren’t given until nearly the end. There was no way for me as a reader to connect the dots and make an attempt at solving that myself. That is apparently not one of the rules of murder mystery writing! It was pointed out by Julia that there were inconsistencies in the text, some that I noticed but it was a bit like they wanted us to play editor rather than solve anything.
Nobody was interested in murder mysteries after the war. They became outdated very quickly, next to all that real death.
Towards the end things start changing all over the place and I’m not sure I liked how it was done. It’s an unusual take on the unreliable narrator, I can say that at the very least. I didn’t feel any satisfaction or surprise, I just thought it was a bit silly. I suppose it was set in the past so that it was easier to accept ignorance of things.
I think the eighth detective is meant to be Julia? Or the reader? I didn’t feel like a detective. It did make me think a bit about the ingredients that make up a mystery though, so I’ll give it that.
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