Ludditus's Reviews > The Eighth Detective

The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi
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What eighth detective (or what eight detectives, in the UK edition)? You'll understand towards the end of this unusual book which mainly consists of 7 stories, which per se are not that bad, so if one would only read the odd chapters from 1 to 13, they'd have a fair return for their money. The even chapters (except for 16) are mostly used for ridiculous attempts to qualify, quantify and categorize the various types of classic detective fiction, allegedly based on a research paper, ‘The Permutations of Detective Fiction.’ Here's a sample of ridiculousness at its best:

“Armed with this definition,” she read, “we can now set out mathematically the fundamental variations on the classic murder mystery.” ... “That where the number of suspects is equal to two. That where there are three or more suspects. The aberrant case with infinitely many suspects, which we allow but don’t consider worthy of comment. That where the set of killers has a size of one, a solitary actor. That where the set of killers has a size of two, partners in crime. That where the set of killers is equal to the entire, or almost the entire, set of suspects. That where a large share of the suspects, three or more but not all, are killers. That where there is a single victim; that where there are multiple victims. Any case formed by replacing A and B with any combination of suspects, detectives, victims, or killers—except that of suspects and killers, which has already been accounted for—in the following: the cases where A and B are disjoint, where A contains B as a strict subset, where A and B are equal, where A and B overlap but neither is contained in the other. Notably that includes the cases where all detectives are killers, all suspects are victims, all detectives are victims. That where the suspects entirely consist of detectives and victims, and likewise for the killers. That where the killers are only those detectives that are not also victims. That where the killers are only those victims that are not also detectives. That where every suspect is both victim and killer. That where every suspect is both detective and killer. That where every suspect is victim, detective, and killer all in one. Finally, the case where all four sets are identical: suspects, killers, victims, and detectives. And any consistent combination of the above.”

I understand that the author has a Ph.D. in Mathematics, but this is beyond nonsensical. The same can be said about the Venn diagrams which are never drawn, but always described. Sorry, I cannot understand “spoken diagrams.” But no Venn diagram is required to understand such assertions:

“So we’ve had a murder mystery with two suspects, one where the victims and suspects overlap, another where the detectives and killers overlap, and one where the killers and suspects are the same?”

There's more to this clumsy construct; an interesting twist is that after each murder mystery, the useless discussion between the two characters includes revealing of some inconsistencies, discrepancies, or incongruities not accidentally slipped into the text, but purposely hidden there. Some of them are easily noticeable, many aren't. I wonder whether the author didn't forget to let his character mention this strange one:

“He had calmed down by that time. In fact, he seemed excited.”

How can one be at the same time calm and excited? Also, consider this:

Grant’s response was enigmatic. “You’d think it would, but it doesn’t.”

What's enigmatic in such a clear answer? ‘It doesn't’ means ‘no.’

A bonus to this book: alternate ends for the seven mysteries. Unfortunately, absolutely all the alternative endings are unconvincing and seem rushed in. But there's more to this book, which I can't reveal to you without spoiling the surprise(s).

Beyond the questionable concept of this book, there's more to disagree with: the reductionism of the murder mystery. I quite object to this one:

“Remember that I’ve rejected the view of detective stories as logical puzzles, where the clues define a unique solution and the process of deriving it is almost mathematical. It’s not, and they never do. That’s all just sleight of hand.” ... “We mustn’t forget,” Grant continued, “that the central purpose of a murder mystery is to give its readers a handful of suspects and the promise that in about a hundred pages one or more of them will be revealed as the murderers. That’s the beauty of the genre.” ... “It presents the reader with a small, finite number of options, and then at the end it just circles back and commits to one of them. It’s really a miracle that the human brain could ever be surprised by such a solution, when you think about it. And the definition doesn’t change that, it just clarifies the possibilities.” ... “And that’s what differentiates a murder mystery from any other story with a surprise at the end. The possibilities are presented to the reader up front. The ending just comes back and points to one of them.”

This is simply not true. So many murder mysteries introduce previously unknown characters in the last couple of chapters. The suspects, even in the largest definition of the term (i.e. everyone, including the victim and the detective) aren't always known long enough to be able to ratiocinate about them; when they are (e.g. in most Agatha Christie's cases), the story is exactly a logical puzzle with a unique logical solution, all others being a bit stretched.

Alex Pavesi shouldn't think of the field of detective fiction as if it were a piece of software; it isn't.

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Reading Progress

September 21, 2020 – Started Reading
September 23, 2020 – Finished Reading
September 24, 2020 – Shelved

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