A tip of the hat to Mack of Mack Captures Crime for recommending this book.
The unnamed narrator of Mystery Man owns a crime fiction bookshop in Belfast, No Alibis: Murder is Our Business, and when the private detective next door disappears his clients make their way into the bookstore for assistance. Having something of a lack of clientele our mystery man successfully tackles an investigation into the search for some sexy leather pants presumed filched by a dry cleaner. This proves to be the start of a whole new career for him and he is soon joined by a quirky sidekick to solve The Case of the Dancing Jews.
Our mysterious narrator is a cross between Adrian Monk and Bernard from Black Books (though he’s not a drunk). He is afraid of just about everything and has a number of compulsions including the need to scratch any car that has a personalised number plate with a nail he keeps specifically for the purpose. As a retailer he is unlikely to garner untold riches as his ‘strategy’ encompasses sentiments like
“I see the need to attract customers into the store, I just don’t often feel the want”
“I like to think the atmosphere in the store is finally balanced between the pull-up-a-chair-and-peruse-from-our-books-for-nothing Borders and the reading room at Guantanamo Bay”.
The story is a satire on the crime fiction genre. If you have never read a crime fiction novel in your life you will in all likelihood not find it humorous. I don’t mean this to be patronising but some of the negative reviews I read seem to have been written by people who have never read a single work of crime fiction and their incomprehension interpreted as criticism seems a little unjust. If you have at least dabbled in mysteries then you should enjoy the satirical elements of the story as well as the way the narrative weaves in commonly held gripes of the genre’s aficionados. For example when asked whether the new James Patterson is in, our bookseller responds
“Sir, I replied with suitable haughtiness, because I know my onions, the old James Patterson isn’t in. This is a James Patterson-free zone. Once we begin stocking Pattersons we’ll have no room for anything else. We may as well change the name of the shop to Patterson Books”.
Of course natty one-liners aren’t enough to sustain a whole book but fortunately there is a jolly romp of a mystery here too. The main case has dead bodies a-plenty, possible Nazis and even a car chase which is no less dramatic because it turns out to have been completely unnecessary. It is satisfactorily resolved with a modern twist on the traditional dénouement (one is forced to ponder what Hercule Poroit might have made of PowerPoint) and a humdinger of a cliff hanger.
Funny-ness is such a subjective thing. Loads of people told me that David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day would make me laugh ‘til I hurt but I abandoned the book at the half-way point without ever cracking a smile (and I grizzle to this day about having spent $22.95 on it). So I’m not going to tell you this book will make you laugh. All I’ll say is that it made me become the latest crazy giggling lady on my city’s public transport and I think you’d be daft not to at least sneak a peek at the first couple of short chapters in your local bookshop. If it is your kind of humour then there is lots of it and reading the book will make your day.
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My rating 4/5
Publisher Headline ; ISBN 9780755346745; Length 405 pages
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Mack Captures Crime has also reviewed Mystery Man