This is one of those domestic noir novels which are currently so popular. Normally, these leave me more than a little cold, but NetGalley, one of the review services I use, sent out an email to their reviewers hyping this book so I thought I would give it a try. Part of the reason they probably went so big on this book is that by all accounts it was snapped up quickly by the publishers who were obviously very impressed. So, it’s a pity that it didn’t do it for me.
The novel starts with a literary agent, Peter Katz, receiving an unfinished manuscript entitled The Book of Mirrors. Its author is a man called Richard Flynn who is writing a memoir about his time at Princeton in the late 1980s. The focus of his book is on his relationship with Laura Baines, a psychology student and the protégé of a famous psychology Professor, Joseph Wieder. One night in 1987, Wieder was brutally murdered in his home and the case was never solved. Unfortunately, the excerpt Flynn sent to Katz doesn’t reveal who murdered Wieder, but hints heavily that all will be revealed in the rest of the text. Katz is keen to read the rest. Only one problem, Flynn has just died of cancer and his partner has no idea where the rest of the manuscript is. Peter Katz is now determined to either find the manuscript or have someone investigate what happened that night in lieu of commissioning a True Crime book on the case. He recruits a former journalist to the cause, who in turn gets an ex-cop on the case.
A big aspect of this book is memory, whether memory is like a film camera, recording events faithfully, or whether it is more a construct. Professor Joseph Wieder’a work focuses on memory, as does that of Laura Baines, and there are hints that he was working on a secret project for the military on the manipulation of memories. This is a theme that runs through the book as we are introduced to the various characters whose recollections of events are then challenged by the memories of others.
I won’t give away any spoilers, but we find out the truth as to who murdered Wieder in the end. In some ways, this was a disappointment. As the whole book is based upon the idea that our memories are not concrete and might be open to interpretation, I felt that more ambiguity might have paradoxically provided a more satisfying conclusion.
Having said that The Book of Mirrors is a well-written novel, its well plotted and hangs together. I did find it difficult to care however. For a start, I just wonder how much interest readers have in the lives of authors (Richard Flynn in this case) and literary agents. As an aspiring author, I understand that we writers care, but I imagine the average reader doesn’t. Hell, I even find most stories about writers tiresome (except for the novels of Stephen King where the protagonist is an author). Furthermore, the life of academia is not that interesting either. None of the characters were particularly likeable and due to the fact that the perspective of the narrator changed not once, but three times, (Katz the literary agent, Flynn the writer, the journalist, then the cop) even those characters we might have empathised with we never really got to know. I accept that it is not always necessary to empathise with a character to enjoy a novel. Sometimes with a villain, or in a noir even with the main protagonist, it can be a joy not to empathise with them. But in those cases, you must have something to compensate, the author should take the reader on one hell of a ride.
Unfortunately, the Book of Mirrors didn’t earn my empathy for any of the characters and it didn’t take me on a hell of a ride.
2 out of 5 stars