An interesting approach to story-telling, but not the gripping thriller I was expecting. 3/5 stars.
Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book to read and review.
The Book of Mirrors will be published on 26th January.
The blurb: When big-shot literary agent Peter Katz receives an unfinished manuscript entitled The Book of Mirrors, he is intrigued. The author, Richard Flynn is writing a memoir about his time at Princeton in the late 80s, documenting his relationship with the famous Professor Joseph Wieder.
One night in 1987, Wieder was brutally murdered in his home and the case was never solved.
Peter Katz is hell-bent on getting to the bottom of what happened that night twenty-five years ago and is convinced the full manuscript will reveal who committed the violent crime. But other people’s recollections are dangerous weapons to play with, and this might be one memory that is best kept buried.
My review will be spoiler-free in the sense that I won’t talk about “whodunnit”. However, I will discuss what this book is not and that might be considered a spoiler by some. You’ve been warned!
Perhaps I went into this book with the wrong expectations. From the blurb and the intriguing first part of the story – full as it is of mentions of secret memory manipulations experiments – I was expecting the narrative to develop as a thrilling, complex, mind-bending mystery, something akin to Danny Boyle’s film, Trance.
Well, that’s not what this book is. In fact, The Book of Mirrors is more an exploration of memory than a thriller or mystery. If you’re interested in a meditation on the subjectivity and unreliability of recollection or memory loss, then this is a story for you. If you’re after an edge-of-your-seat whodunnit, then I’d pick up something else.
The story is divided in three parts, each told by a different narrator. The first is a partial manuscript, reproduced by the literary agent to whom it was submitted. This, in my opinion, is the best part of the book. The narrator promises to demystify an unsolved murder which happened over twenty years ago. In the process he gives us an involving story of love, loss, intrigue, cutthroat academia, rumours of dubious psychological experimentation and boozy late-night conversations. In short, when the manuscript cuts out, the extract ending abruptly before the murder, having set up many suspects but not giving us any answers, I couldn’t wait to read more.
This is the transition to Part Two, when the story is taken up by a journalist hired by the literary agent to track down the rest of the story. This part is full of dead ends and I started to think “the final reveal had better be pretty darn spectacular or I’m going to be disappointed”.
I continued to have this thought during Part Three, which is narrated by a detective who was assigned to the original murder case. His investigations at least lead somewhere, but are even more mundane than those of the journalist. And when the final reveal came, I was disappointed by its banality.
A three-part, three-narrator structure is a great idea and had the potential to inject dynamism into the story by letting us enjoy different voices and perspectives on a set of events. Sadly, I didn’t feel the three voices were different enough from each other to shake up the progression of the story, to inject some new life into the tale. They were all male, frustrated, nostalgic and melancholy. As a result, by part Three, I found the narrative tone had become somewhat monotonous.
Overall: know what you’re getting into before reading The Book of Mirrors. After Part One, this isn’t a gripping whodunnit, but rather a somewhat sombre reflection on memory and how we each construct our own reality through subjective and malleable recollections.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul