Describing this as a thrilling read is something of a misnomer, but it is most certainly the kind of clever story that reveals itself slowly and which had me hooked from the outset.
We’re told that a mathematician, Grant McAllister, published an article that explored a clear set of rules to which detective stories must adhere. Based on this idea he published a book called The White Murders, a series of seven short stories examining these theories, but has not written anything since. A recluse, living on a remote Mediterranean island, so it is naturally exciting to learn that an editor is visiting Mr McAllister with the view to publishing a new copy of his work.
Our editor, Julia Hart, is the character who frames this story. We’re told she is sent to help Mr McAllister to edit his work so she reads each story aloud to him before they discuss it. The repetitive structure to this shouldn’t work, but it does…and is central to the success of The Eighth Detective.
What we learn after the first story reading is that each of these seven stories includes some unusual detail. It doesn’t necessarily affect the story, but there is something in each that seems incongruous- and we know it’s important, though we’re not sure to what.
As we listen to the individual stories and Julia’s discussion of them with the author, it is clear that each inconsistency is a clue. I was desperate to work this out and found myself eagerly taking apart each of the stories within the story to try and establish which element had been altered.
I was expecting something odd – and we can tell from quite early on that the title of the book is important (both the fictional book and the book we’re reading) – but I felt like the author had performed an amazing sleight of hand when we finally had the reveal.
This was a clever book, and one which would certainly stand up to rereading and closer examination. I enjoyed it immensely and even though some of the coincidences/tricks used were not wholly plausible and I would have liked to see the characters within our present story fleshed out a little more fully, I enjoyed this so much it has to be a five star rating.
I’m very grateful to the publishers, Michael Joseph, and NetGalley for letting me offer my thoughts on this prior to publication and I will certainly be getting my own copy of it to reread in the not too distant future.