There’s a page in my edition of EO Chirovici’s debut novel The Book of Mirrors where the author describes the long process of getting agents and publishers interested in his manuscript. He describes his surprise when he finally succeeds and how quickly it all went after that, with his new agent assuring him that this book will make a ‘splash’.
These stories of a struggling author’s eventual success are always great, especially when you learn that the rights have been sold to more than 30 countries even before it’s been published and will be backed by a significant marketing campaign.
It gives hope to all those struggling authors out there, and it also gives hope to reviewers that these next few hundred pages are going to be something very special.
And the novel then starts with a literary agent who has just received a manuscript from a struggling author, Richard Flynn.
We get that author’s first 50 or so pages, the partial submission he’d sent to the agent (which takes up about a third of this book). It appears to be a kind of memoir, with Flynn describing his early days at university, in 1987, and how he shared an apartment with this wonderful girl. She was studying psychology, and she introduced him to her charismatic professor. They all become good friends, but after a while, Flynn feels they might both be hiding something from him, toying with him maybe.
The partial manuscript ends one snowy night when the author goes to confront the professor – the night the professor is murdered!
The agent requests the rest of the manuscript, but Flynn dies (of lung cancer), and the next third of the book is set in 2008 with a new narrator, John Keller, a journalist turned gumshoe sent by the agent to track down the rest of the manuscript. He interviews anyone remotely connected to the professor’s murder.
The narrative takes a noir twist, complete with lines like: ‘It was raining and the sky had the colour of cabbage soup.’ But this case takes more than a Sam Spade voice-over, and Keller still can’t find the rest of the manuscript, mainly because he’s dealing with memories (or are they lies?) of events 20 years before.
Along the way, he meets Roy Freeman, a cop who worked on the original case, and Freeman takes up the final third of the book, and he goes on to interview everyone connected with the case. He doesn’t find the manuscript, but at least he finally finds the murderer.
After the set up with the partial manuscript, the investigation becomes fairly routine. Each new chapter is an interview with another suspect or witness. And despite the shifting times and narrators, this is no Cloud Atlas. Although the writing style changes with each new voice, the characters often all sound the same. Havin’ some of them drop G’s on their present participles and adding phrases like ‘na’mean’ to their dialogue does little to separate them.
After the initial build-up, I found myself reading this book and thinking the whole way through that the ending is going to be brilliant, the final twist will really make this story; there has to be something to warrant the expected ‘splash’. Instead, I discovered the killer was indeed the guy I thought it would be on page 64 (any mention of mysterious lovers is always a clue). And that was a big let-down.
Any Cop?: Marketing and the continuing demand for thrillers will make sure The Book of Mirrors does well. It’s certainly not bad, but it’s no better than your average noir mystery.