Pavesi’s cerebral debut blends a mystery with an academic discussion of the mystery genre. Book editor Julia Hart has come to a small Mediterranean island, the home of reclusive author Grant McAllister, to help him prepare his 25-year-old story collection, The White Murders, for reissue. Privately printed in the early 1940s, the collection was based on a 1937 paper by Grant, whose intent was “to give a mathematical definition of a murder mystery.” As the editor and author go through each of the seven stories, they discuss Grant’s mathematical rules for his fiction. Julia spots inconsistencies in each, and remarks on the fact that the collection’s title echoes an unsolved crime from the time of the book’s origin. Pavesi clearly knows his classic murder mysteries, as shown by a story that evokes Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and all his plot tricks will please readers with a similar passion. Some may be put off by the lack of emotional depth and an overly long denouement that serves chiefly to illustrate the author’s cleverness. Whatever one’s take on this ingenious if schematic novel, Pavesi is a writer to watch. Agent: James Willis, Watson, Little (U.K.). (Aug.)
DEBUT In 1937, mathematician Grant McAllister wrote a research paper, "The Permutations of Detective Fiction," which provided a "mathematical definition" for the murder mystery. He outlined murder mystery requirements—victim(s), murder, suspects, and an investigator—and then wrote seven stories illustrating some of these parameters. Each of the seven tales here is accompanied by a chapter in which Grant and editor Julia, who, 20 years hence, wants to republish them, discuss the stories. "Spain, 1930" is a closed-room mystery in which a man is murdered and there are two suspects. Obviously, they both know who "dunnit." In "Death at the Seaside," Vanessa Allen falls to her death from a narrow cliffside pathway. Daily, she crossed the path with her neighbor, Gordon Foyle, who had a motive to push her, but evidence is scant. Is it murder, suicide, or an accident? This story has a Sherlockian tone. Further pieces include a woman drowned in her bath, a grandmother smothered for her jewels, and a supernatural story in which a dead policeman solves his own murder. As they talk about the stories, Julia begins to suspect that Grant isn't telling her everything. VERDICT Although the stories in this first collection have twists and turns, and the book itself has a surprise ending, neither the tales, nor the writing are compelling, the latter containing more similes than imagination. [See Prepub Alert, 1/22/20.]—Edward Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY
Mathematician and first-time novelist Pavesi creates a metamystery that could as easily go in a bookstore’s puzzle section as on the crime shelves.
In 1930s Spain, Megan, Henry, and Bunny are alone in a house when Bunny is found stabbed to death. There must be an intruder, but there can’t be. Windows and doors are sealed, so it’s a locked-room mystery. Megan and Henry accuse each other, and of course they both know the truth—but does the reader? It’s the first in a collection of seven stories titled The White Murders written by mathematician-turned-novelist Grant McAllister, who lives in seclusion on a Mediterranean island. In the 1970s, book editor Julia Hart travels to the island to visit McAllister and talk about his book, which everyone knows editors do for obscure authors. McAllister had earlier written a research paper, “The Permutations of Detective Fiction,” on the mathematical structure of murder mysteries and the specific criteria that must be met. That sounds like as much fun as analyzing a joke, but his requirements make perfect sense: a victim, at least two suspects, a killer, and a detective. And there are combinations, such as the detective being the killer or multiple guilty parties or even—wait for it—the victim solving his own murder. In one story, a restaurateur tells customers “I am sad to say there has been a death on the premises,” and Miss Garrick, a teacher, is left to protect the crime scene. Elsewhere, McAllister and Hart exchange bloodless comments like “They never managed to find her killer.” “How unpleasant.” “Yes, it is rather.” Enclosing all the stories like a Russian doll is the question of why the editor visits the author at all. But both hold back secret motivations that drive the grand plot. The book abounds with complications and twists, and puzzle lovers will have fun predicting the endings of the stories. In one case, McAllister says readers have “enough evidence to solve this mystery for themselves.” Perhaps, perhaps.
A satisfying mystery for the casual reader, even more so for the careful one.
From the Publisher
A New York Times Top Ten Thriller of 2020
Winner of the Capital Crimes Reader Award for Debut Book of the Year
"The reader understands that the book is a meta-story about the nature of mystery writing itself, but it’s a sign of Pavesi’s skill that we fall headlong into each of his stories. If that means we’re pawns in his grand chess game, so be it. His revelations are completely unexpected, right up to the end."
The New York Times
"One of the most innovative mysteries in recent memory."
The Wall Street Journal
“One of the year's most entertaining crime novels”
"Dizzying, dazzling a potent potion of a thriller, a brew of bibliophilia (think The Shadow of the Wind), wire-taut tension (The Talented Mr. Ripley), and plot swerves so sharp and sudden you risk whiplash with each turn of the page, as bold as the best of Michael Connelly and Lisa Gardner. When did you last read a genuinely original thriller? The wait is over."
A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window
"An elegantly structured, intellectually challenging and completely unique thriller that grips like a vice."
– SOPHIE HANNAH
“It's rare for me to read a book in a single day, but I couldn't put The Eighth Detective down. Compelling, clever, and beautifully-constructed. It deserves to be huge. I genuinely wanted to applaud at the end.”
Alex North, New York Times bestselling author of The Whisper Man
“An absolute triumph of a novel. I read it in two greedy gulps. Intelligent and compelling storytelling. Utterly brilliant”
Ali Land, bestselling author of Good Me Bad Me
"In The Eighth Detective, Alex Pavesi constructs a remarkable puzzle that turns readers into literary detectives with every new twist. Both a celebration and a reinvention of mystery fiction."
Matthew Pearl, New York Times bestselling author of The Dante Chamber and The Dante Club
“So, so clever. A twisty story and an education in the math of murder mysteries. Agatha Christie would take her hat off to this one. Bravo!”
Sarah Pinborough, New York Times bestselling author of Behind Her Eyes
“Alex Pavesi has written one of the most creative detective novels of the year…if not of all time. Sharp writing, crisp dialogue, and the end will leave you reeling. An incredible debut novel!”
Samantha Downing, International bestselling author of My Lovely Wife
"Inventive. . . . Pavesi’s language immerses readers in mid-twentieth-century England and in the struggles, cruelties, and oddities of his multitude of carefully portrayed characters. Give this atmospheric puzzle to fans of short stories and of the American Mystery Classics series."
Booklist, starred review
"The book abounds with complications and twists, and puzzle lovers will have fun predicting the endings of the stories...A satisfying mystery for the casual reader, even more so for the careful one."
"Ingenius. . . Pavesi is a writer to watch."