RogerBW's Blog

Mystery Man, Colin Bateman 04 December 2017

2009 comedic mystery, first in its series. The nameless narrator runs No Alibis, a mystery bookshop in Belfast. But when the private detective agency next door suddenly closes down, some of its customers start coming to him instead.

Our nameless protagonist is deeply cynical, particularly about book-selling, publishing and writing; and that works well. But he's also obsessive-compulsive, paranoid, selfish, hypochondriac, terrified of everything, and relentlessly self-sabotaging; and that works less well. Even with good writing, there's only so much I want to read about a nasty person carefully destroying anything in his life that might be pleasant (and with a perfect girlfriend who accepts him just as he is, for no obvious reason). It's as if Black Books were made entirely from Bernard Black's perspective.

The initial cases are pretty trivial, and this works fairly well as comedic detection (certainly better than Dangerous Davies or Charles Paris). But then a much more serious matter turns up, and with major tonal whiplash we're sent off to the legacy of Auschwitz and fresh corpses start to pile up. Our hero is clearly out of his depth, and knows it, and only carries on because his new girlfriend is out of phase with him (when he wants to drop the case and hand it over to the police, she wants him to continue with it, and vice versa).

There's not much to the actual mystery; it's quite clear who's responsible, and pretty much why, even if it goes directly against one particular piece of evidence (with no explanation of the discrepancy).

It's all quite fun, but hard going, and I'm unlikely to read more. Followed by The Day of the Jack Russell.

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See also:
Cast in Order of Disappearance, Simon Brett
Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective, Leslie Thomas

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