Imagine, if you will, this Venn diagram: the murder mystery is a subset of crime fiction which is both a subset of literature and a subset of social commentary. Or perhaps this diagram: truth and lies are two distinctive sets of data that would seem to be mutually exclusive, but actually their interaction is often much more complex, sometimes overlapping to various degrees and maybe even, just possibly, acting as subsets of one another. As strange as it is to see mathematics discussed in a crime fiction review, this is vital to understanding the majesty of Alex Pavesi’s The Eighth Detective, one of the most unique and unforgettable novels of the season.
Julia Hart is a New York-based editor who has managed to track down the elusive author and celebrated mathematician, Grant McAllister, on a remote and isolated Mediterranean island. Julia wishes to republish McAllister’s most famous work – a collection of short stories which illustrate the vital rules by which murder mysteries are constrained, doing so by using mathematical terms and theory as the basis on which his work rests.
Julia feels that his book, The White Murders, would benefit from one additional editorial pass and has located Mr. McAllister in the hopes of reading the stories with him and discussing any alterations that might be needed. Despite having put this part of his life to rest, Grant is most intrigued and agrees to allow Julia to visit with that goal in mind.
The unusual structure of The Eighth Detective becomes immediately evident to readers. One chapter will be a recreation of the short story from The White Murders and the following chapter will recount Julia and Grant’s conversation about that story. There are seven stories in Grant McAllister’s collection – in his mind outlining all the permutations a crime story could take based on the mathematical theories he analyzed.
Needless to say, in the various conversation chapters the reader also gets to know more about these two main characters. Julia very astutely discovers that each story contains at least one unexplainable inconsistency – each an anomaly that she cannot seem to understand and which Grant claims not to remember including, at least intentionally. Knowing that these “errors” would need to be corrected before any republication of the collection can be successful, Julia Hart asks ever more pointed questions of Grant McAllister – leading them both down a path of shocking revelations.
Alex Pavesi has crafted one extremely fascinating crime novel – one that works both as a damn good fictional mystery and as a close examination of the tropes this genre relies upon. Fans of crime fiction will notice allusions within the McAllister’s short stories, some more subtle than others, calling to mind many of the classic works in the canon of crime fiction. This makes The Eighth Detective such a rewarding read for fans of the genre. However, it is the uniqueness of this work that will be remembered for the longest time – there is nothing quite like it on the market and it’s really one of those pieces of writing that can never really be duplicated. The Eighth Detective is Alex Pavesi’s first novel, so anticipation for what his next book might entail is exceptionally high given the quality and splendor of this debut.