Books by David Knowles

THE THIRD EYE by David Knowles
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 1, 2000

Further refining his distinctive approach to seductive storytelling, Knowles (the novella The Secrets of the Camera Obscura, 1994) digs deep into the head of a Peeping Tom, who finds his peeping perturbed and reason rattled by a woman who seems to know him better than he knows himself. This is no ordinary Tom, however'no, this is a Manhattan-variety voyeur who calls himself Jefferson, a real-estate scion with enough money to buy a building in Soho just to board up the windows facing the prize apartment he sublets cheaply to beautiful young women for a few months. In one of the boarded-up windows is a hole, behind which is a camera, behind which is our man. Taking pictures of his tenants in various states is how Jefferson treats his agoraphobia, a case so severe he can't hang out in Central Park, let alone leave the city. But his photographs are too good to keep to himself, so he lets his friend Henry, a struggling artist fresh from Indiana, have a peek. Henry is hooked, and with ample encouragement begins to paint versions of the photos. This cozy arrangement unravels, though, when Jefferson's latest ad brings him Maya, a woman from India, complete with a red dot on her forehead, who is so captivating he forgets all the rules of his game. She gets the apartment, but promptly disappears, leaving Jefferson increasingly frustrated, then worried when he learns Henry is having a show of his photo-paintings at a gallery whose owner Maya knows. As Jefferson frets, he completely loses his grip, although after his meltdown his agoraphobia is gone. Diverse stages of mental distress, described from within this unsavory character, are handled with artful reserve, but the existential mystery of Maya remains just that, with the explanations about her sounding, to echo Henry's words, like "a big pile of psychic crap." Read full book review >
THE SECRETS OF THE CAMERA OBSCURA by David Knowles
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: June 6, 1994

Chronicle kicks off a new series of novellas in hardcover (see also Les Galloway's The Forty Fathom Bank, above) with a work highly reminiscent of Umberto Eco (among others) in its combination of historical research and contemporary suspense. Knowles, a professional musician and a product of the writing program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, gives his story an unnamed narrator who owns and operates a camera obscura, a viewing device whose origins go back to 13th-century China. The San Francisco resident also keeps a journal in which he is writing a history of three key events in the development of the camera obscura; concerning respectively its Chinese inventors, Leonardo da Vinci, and Vermeer, the stories each end with a brutal murder by decapitation. Although most of the narrator's customers are tourists just passing through, he has two regular clients, a beautiful Italian woman and an art student named Darin. When the Italian is killed and her head severed, he becomes obsessed with the mystery. The narrative interweaves the three stories from his journals, each of which centers on a betrayal involving the camera obscura and a beautiful woman, with his growing conflict with Darin over what he takes to be the student's presumption about the Italian woman. Knowles does a terrific job with the narrator's evolving voice, which in the beginning is coolly, almost eerily detached, then shifts subtly over the course of the book as he becomes increasingly agitated at the direction the murder investigation is taking. An intriguing first effort, working some thoughtful changes on the idea of vision and the theme of betrayal, marred by a simplistic and predictable trick ending right out of an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode. Read full book review >