I ‘ve just finished Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi and am in two minds about it. Here’s why. It was the premise that caught my eye and drew me in…
Opening sentence: The two suspects sat on mismatched furniture in the white and almost featureless lounge, waiting for something to happen.
I love murder mysteries. From super clever modern ones (such as The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris or The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley) to the back-catalogue of the Queen of crime herself, Agatha Christie. So when I heard that Eight Detectives was a celebration of the genre – particularly the recognisable golden age stories of the 1930s/1940s – I knew I wanted to read it.
The murder mystery equation
What we have in Eight Detectives is a really enticing structure: seven short murder mystery stories within an overarching main story. Our overarching narrators are editor Julia Hart and author Grant McAllister.
Julia’s publishing house found a self-published book from the 1940s, The White Murders and want to publish it now. So Julia goes to the remote Mediterranean island where its author Grant McAllister now lives, to edit his manuscript further and learn more about his work.
Grant’s USP for his book is that he has created a mathematical equation about the conventions of murder mysteries:
‘All of these stories,’ he said, ‘derive from a research paper that I wrote in nineteen thirty-seven, examining the mathematical structure of murder mysteries. I called it The Permutations of Detective Fiction.
The White Murders comprises of seven short stories that each demonstrate his mathematical theory in action. BUT. The maths element felt a tad redundant to me as it was: victim + murderer + suspects + detective = murder mystery story and… I don’t think I need to be a maths professor or Sherlock Holmes to work that one out?
So, with such a basic base formula, the seven short stories to showcase the variants of this equation needed to be the absolute best examples of these types of stories and, for me, they weren’t. Two were direct copies of Agatha’s best known works. Call them a homage if you want but I knew what was coming so the impact of the stories was lost.
Premise + execution = ?
I had high hopes for the Julia/Grant storyline, which in itself has a tantalising mystery brewing, and I actually preferred reading those chapters to the short stories but the ending was just too much of a curveball and didn’t quite fit within the proclaimed mathematical rules for me, which was surely the whole point?
I know a lot of people have loved reading Eight Detectives and I can totally see why – I don’t want to seem completely negative about it as it did keep me turning those pages and my enjoyment while reading was definitely there. Overall, it just fell a little short for me. Love the premise though.
- Get your copy of Eight Detectives here;
- Published by Michael Joseph 2020;
- 346 pages;
- My rating: