Review: The Eighth Detective (Alex Pavesi)

An interesting premise, marred by a lackluster ending.

Not terribly long ago, I read The Eighth Sister, by another author. Now, The Eighth Detective (Eight Detectives, for the UK version) is here. Did I miss a memo?

In The Eighth Detective, Grant McAllister, a mathematician, once worked out a math formula for detective fiction – there must exist at least one victim, one detective, and so forth. As a proof of the claims he made, he wrote seven short stories, all of which contain one or more elements of his formula. He called the collection The White Murders, self-published one hundred copies, then moved to an unnamed island in the Mediterranean.

Julia Hart, ostensibly an editor with a small press, visits McAllister on his island, to sort the stories and edit them for publication.

The format of the overall book is this: one of the stories, which w find Julia is reading back to McAllister, then a conversation chapter, where Julia is reading the last line(s) of each story, then points out items that belong to his math theory, and then items that do not fit the story – inconsistencies. She asks if he purposely wrote these into the stories, and he claims he must have, but that his memory after thirty years have passed between his writing does not allow him to recall these things concretely.

There are seven stories comprising The White Murders, each with their own detective of sorts – that is, some have actual detectives, and some featuring amateurs. As each is read and discussed, more and more of the math is brought in, up to and including Venn diagrams. Each story is certainly what could be expected of the time they were written: crimes are solved by deduction and conversation (LOTS of conversation), and while some of the deaths are rather macabre, there are no lingering, lengthy, detailed description of the gore. If you expect to find car (or horse) chases or gunfights, you will be sorely disappointed. Think more Agatha Christie and less Robert Ludlum.

What we do not get, at least for most of the book, is any sort of character development of the two people about whom we should care the most: McAllister and Hart. Hart, from time to time, mentions an unsolved murder back in the UK of a woman with the last name White, and points out that elements of that murder appear in each of the stories. Was the impetus for these stories that murder? McAllister denies this was the case, and claims to not knowing he had placed these real life things into his fictional tales. He does, though, allow that perhaps he did so unconsciously do so.

As we reach the end of the book, we derive that Julia Hart herself is the eighth detective, looking into the very murder she has repeatedly questioned McAllister about. We also get more narrative of what she does when she leaves his company for the day and returns to her hotel, and that informs the big reveal at the end.

I’ll not go into spoiler territory, but all is not as it appears on this lovely island or with McAllister.

Toward the end, the stories became a bit tedious, as did the math. The explanations we get from Julia Hart were confusing at first, given the swaps she’d done with material and the way they were presented, and her “testing” of McAllister. By then, this reader, at least, knew what she suspected.

The stories…well, at least one did not contain enough clues for the reader to actually solve the crime, unlike the larger story that wrapped them. Instead, we get a monologue telling us how things were – the story with the department store fire, for instance, was terrible in this regard, and would be terrible in any era if one didn’t have ESP.

Overall, I’m giving it three stars out of five.

Thanks to Henry Holt and NetGalley for the review copy.