"THE RULES OF DREAMING: A mind-bending marriage of ambitious literary theory and classic murder mystery.... In this intricately plotted novel, Hartman... spins the familiar trappings of gothic mystery together with a fresh postmodern sensibility, producing a story that's as rich and satisfying as it is difficult to categorize.... As Hartman skillfully blurs the lines between fiction and reality, the book becomes a profound meditation on art, identity and their messy spheres of influence. An exciting, original take on the literary mystery genre."– Kirkus Reviews
A heady mystery for the literary set.
In his latest outing, Hartman (The Rules of Dreaming, 2013) delivers a suspenseful, pitch-perfect novel with an unlikely lead detective: a fictionalized version of iconic Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). The story takes place outside Boston in 1967, as recollected by narrator Nick Martin—an ailing elderly man who once spent a semester as Borges’ graduate assistant and amateur gumshoe sidekick while the author was a visiting lecturer. Shortly after the eccentric Borges’ arrival, a murder within Nick’s department is revealed to have a surprise literary twist, and he and the author team up to solve the crime. The murder turns out to be the first in a series of strange tragedies in the area, all with some sort of connection to literature or philosophy. The crimes fit in well with Borges’ latest academic fascination, Thomas De Quincey’s 1827 satirical essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” and Nick and Borges have long philosophic discourses at a local coffee shop, where they discuss the nature of reality as Nick pines for a beautiful waitress. “The world is crowded with illusionists,” Borges declares during one case, “trying to pass off an imperfect copy of something as the real thing.” Indeed, the world Hartman conjures certainly is crowded with illusionists. Although the prose is sometimes heavy with words that feel as if they were plucked from a thesaurus (“Inevitably the conversation gravitated to the purpose of our visit”), the author’s fine-tuned intellect and vivid reimagining of Borges make for a thought-provoking and compelling read. Plot points that might initially seem hard to believe are, more often than not, not quite what they seem, as Hartman’s story always stays two steps ahead of the reader. Enthusiasts of both philosophy and slick detective stories are sure to enjoy this probing inquiry into humanity’s darker impulses. Borges fans, in particular, will appreciate the book’s clever take on metafiction—not to mention the character’s sly quips: “Don’t the police in this country read Sherlock Holmes?”
An intelligent, original detective novel.
A mind-bending marriage of ambitious literary theory and classic murder mystery.
In this intricately plotted novel, Hartman (winner of the Salvo Press Mystery Novel Award for Perfectly Healthy Man Drops Dead, 2008) spins the familiar trappings of gothic mystery together with a fresh postmodern sensibility, producing a story that’s as rich and satisfying as it is difficult to categorize. The narrative begins with Dr. Ned Hoffmann, a new psychiatrist at a mental institution in a small town. Barely in control of his own instabilities, Dr. Hoffmann struggles with demanding bosses and baffling patients, including the schizophrenic grown children of an opera singer who died under suspicious circumstances. When one of Dr. Hoffmann’s recent patients, Nicole, an anxious literature grad student, finally finds a topic for her dissertation, she discovers that life in her town is beginning to mirror art—in some disconcerting ways. Alongside a professional blackmailer, a scrappy librarian and other assorted meddlers and madmen, Dr. Hoffmann and Nicole slowly unspool a mystery that extends all the way back to artists of the romantic era. Hartman impressively turns literary theory into something sexy and menacing, weaving the real-life works of writer E.T.A. Hoffmann and composers Robert Schumann and Jacques Offenbach, among others, into his characters’ increasingly muddled lives. Sometimes the writing is self-conscious, as when Nicole says, “If you asked me about what’s been going on around here lately, I’d have to classify it as Post-Modern Neo-Gothic Horror.” For the most part, Hartman brings a light touch to potentially weighty material. Though the novel’s philosophical twists and turns are fascinating, the story also succeeds as an old-fashioned whodunit, and the writing is full of descriptive gems. At one point, the librarian looks at someone “over the tops of her trifocals, as if in the suspicion that none of their refractions would reveal the truth about him.” As Hartman skillfully blurs the lines between fiction and reality, the book becomes a profound meditation on art, identity and their messy spheres of influence.
An exciting, original take on the literary mystery genre.