When we pick up a book, we mostly know what we are getting. Housed under the umbrella term ‘fiction’ is an ever-growing cornucopia of category and sub-category: young adult, new adult, lad lit, fanfiction, speculative fiction, Punk, Cyberpunk, Postcyberpunk… The need for reference, for orientation, is both prosaic (i.e. practical) and innate – we just like to know where we stand.
For a novel to therefore evade, or rather hop-skip and jump across categories, is noteworthy per se. The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix begins like a grand, Victorian tale, then takes on the form of old-school British comedy, before morphing into something akin to fantasy. Indeed, this is a fantastical, slapstick, gothic horror. And moreover, it’s delightfully intriguing… Convention dictates that the tease in a novel is constructed upfront, with the author revealing secrets as the story unfolds. Bizarrely – and brilliantly – the intrigue in this story builds. It’s wonderfully done, and gives this work unexpected depth.
Above all, however, it’s a cracking good yarn – an unusual, against the grain, high speed tour-de-force through the 20th century. The only (mild) criticism is that the author has the habit of running too long with a good idea or a funny joke. Perhaps a tighter edit was in order. But in the face of such irrepressible characters, it’s easily dismissed. For a story about a man building up to his suicide, there is a gaiety, a joie de vivre in these characters that is so very uplifting.
Paul Sussman died suddenly in May 2012, aged just forty five. In his lifetime he enjoyed spectacular success with his crime thrillers, selling over three million copies and being translated into over 30 languages. The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix, however, was his first novel – one that only came out from under lock and key after his untimely death. It is his widow, Alicky, who dusted it down, and made it her project, her mission, to get it posthumously published. For his legion of fans, as well as those coming to the author anew, it will not disappoint.
Any Cop?: The heart of the story is genuinely original, and the execution – the storytelling – is simply beautiful. To Alicky, it must be said: ‘mission accomplished’.