The teasing title's not the last touch of bravado in this knowing, nervy first novel--a story chronicling unemployed author Richard Tierney's exploration of the life of British aesthete/adventurer William Ivory after Boston British publisher Dorothy Burton cajoles him into writing a biography of this ``monster.''
Checking into his posh London hotel on Dorothy's advance is only the first step in Tierney's descent into a comic-book hell. Ivory's obituarist Roland Gibbs turns out to be wrong about all the important facts of his subject's life; Ivory's first wife, Helen, whom he never bothered to divorce, stutters through conversations with a jog-trot rhythm courtesy of Parkinson's disease; Nicholas Wheel and Julian Brougham Calder, the two men who answer Tierney's ad for information, are a seedy bar-pianist and a vindictive old drunk who holds court in a tavern called Cunty's. As he follows up hints of Ivory's wide-ranging vices--his resolute immersion in decadence, his fascination with suicide (the cognate cases of Chatterton, Kleist and especially Mishima are duly trotted out), his domination of Helen, his Euro-wannabe Japanese second wife, Reiko, and Lizzie Sharp, the suicidal stripper who displaced her--Tierney (``I hadn't had to deal with an ethical question since I was in college'') finds himself merging with his subject, fleeing his hotel with unpaid bills, moving in with Helen, identifying Dorothy as Ivory's daughter, injecting his own memories and frustrations into the few passages of his book he's able to finish, and leaving his own book behind in his growing obsession to discover the whereabouts of Ivory's manuscript for Last Things and the manner of his mysterious death.
A virtuoso double biography (though Tierney comes across as more interesting than his legendary subject) weak on plot--the promised revelations come as no surprise--but strongly evocative of the biographer's febrile infatuation.