“All fiction is a form of detective fiction. What is a novel if not a series of clues? A code to be cracked.”
As is suggested in the full title, Death of the Author is a story told in three parts. It challenges the reader to work out what is happening, but not in a way they may expect.
The first and longest section follows its narrator, a DCI working in North London, as he makes his way to the scene of an apparent murder. It is early on a weekday morning when a PSCO spots a body on the doorstep of a house in one of the more salubrious streets in the area. He phones it in, thereby making himself a person of interest in the case.
The DCI has been assigned the role of Senior Investigating Officer, requiring team leadership and decision making rather than detailed investigative work. His low opinion of his colleagues’ intelligence, however, means he cannot help but seek potential evidence, trying to ascertain what may have happened in this strangely staged crime scene.
A large chunk of the section covers the DCI’s walk through the neighbourhood leading to the house where the murder likely took place. It brought to mind Simon Okotie’s In the Absence of Absalon, although with a leaning towards wordplay rather than mathematical entertainment. There is much witty verbal skewering of types of people and their habits. Lesser known words and linguistic ambiguities are employed to effect.
Eventually the dead body is viewed and the area around the house explored. There are many clues for armchair detectives to consider. The DCI starts to write in the new notebook he has acquired for the case, as is his habit. Colleagues may use their phones but he prefers to keep records in hard copy, one book per investigation.
The second section is dialogue – a telephone conversation between the widow of a mid list author and his agent. The author had been an officer in the Met and also a crime fiction writer, a side line kept secret from his work colleagues. His last book was unfinished when he died. Wife and agent are now arguing bitterly over what will become of the manuscript. The heated conversation skips along apace, raising issues around relations within a marriage and the business side of publishing. A ghost writer hovers in the background.
The third and final section is, appropriately, written in the third person. An author has completed his third novel and is clearing his attic study of post-it notes and other research or reminder aids – a prelude to submitting the manuscript to his publisher for editing. What is offered here is insight into the writing process, its solitary nature and the challenges to be faced when offering a finished product up to readers. The author harbours doubts about his chosen structure, if it will be deemed acceptable, but holds that a writer must stay true to what sets his work apart given all stories have been told in some way already.
“You’re far better sticking to your own artistic vision, that which made you decide to be a writer in the first place.”
This section is particularly meta and pulls the previous two together. There are hints of autofiction, although as Nash appears to enjoy setting his reader puzzles to play with, nothing should be taken at face value.
The story within story aspect it handled skilfully. Some detail may not appeal to those who prefer all threads to be tied neatly but this is cleverly dealt with. The disparate writing styles in each section keep the reader guessing. The required acceptance of practices within what is a precarious business may make aspiring authors consider their choices.
Murder, death and betrayal are mere ingredients around which Nash cooks his literary feast. The starter may appear to be a police procedural but this proves a red herring, an opening to something completely different.
“It was a mystery thriller after all. Or was it? Oh this is good stuff to feed the marketing machine”
An enjoyable read for those who savour use of language and how it may be used to provide insight into human behaviour. An adept and thought provoking exploration of the life and death – real and figuratively – of the author(s?) featured.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.
Am I intrigued enough to read this story? I think I am…
Reblogged this on Anita Dawes and Jaye Marie.