Eight Detectives is a detective novel about an author of detective novels. Grant McAllister, a mathematician, published a series of seven detective novels in the 1940s as part of his research into the mathematics of murder mysteries. Many decades later, Julia Hart – an acquisitions editor for Blood Type Books – seeks out Grant McAllister, now retired and living in seclusion on a remote island, as she wants to republish his books. However, as they talk through the stories together, discrepancies start to appear – and is Julia imagining the link between The White Murders and a real-life White murder that happened back in 1940?
The idea behind this is brilliant – detective stories within detective stories – and this started very strongly. The tales contained within this are Christie-esque and very hard to predict until the culprit is revealed at the end. I also enjoyed the dynamics between Julia and Grant – clever, sharp-eyed Julia picking out discrepancies and asking probing questions, Grant trying to avoid the questions and steer the discussion towards mathematics. Julia’s youthful inquisitiveness and energy contrasted well with Grant’s weariness and musings. After spending years living in anonymity and seclusion, Grant both welcomes the normality of human interaction and seems wary of what Julia could unleash.
The ending is what makes or breaks a murder mystery, and the ending of this didn’t pack quite the punch I wanted. The major twist was clever – I hadn’t predicted it – but in many ways it felt like cheating. This book was keen to reinforce the rules of murder mystery novels, going over the required components and mathematics – yet the major twist seemed to bend those rules. The final two chapters contained two more twists – one which I had predicted (I believe this was the author’s intention), and one which I had not. It speaks to the author’s ability that it was a complete trope of the genre and still took me by surprise.
In many ways, I think I preferred the constituent detective novels to the overarching plot. The idea of a story within a story is brilliant but very hard to carry off effectively – I can only think of a couple of successful examples. This came very close, and for some it will likely work well, but I wasn’t quite satisfied.
If you’re a fan of detective novels I’d recommend this – the idea of the mathematics and the story within a story is excellent, and the tales within are brilliant examples of short murder mysteries. As for the ending, I’ll leave you to make up your own minds.
Published by Michael Joseph
Hardback: 20 August 2020