THE MYSTERIUM by Eric McCormack


A Novel of Deconstructionism
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 McCormack (The Paradise Motel, 1989) presses his subtitle into service to stiffen a modishly inconclusive investigation into a mysterious plague that's ravaged the population of a troubled village. Located on a place referred to as ``the Island,'' the town of Carrick, as apprentice reporter James Maxwell learns when he's invited by an acquaintance to visit, is doubly haunted. Virtually every native of the town is dead or dying, stricken with a deadly bacterium that causes defects in speech or syntax, makes its victims uncomfortably garrulous and self-revealing, and kills them. The town has been stricken in other ways as well: Animals have collapsed and died, statuary and headstones have been defaced, and a shepherd's been murdered and mutilated. The cause of all this might have seemed to be the interloping hydrologist Martin Kirk--except that Kirk himself fell (or was pushed) onto the track of a speeding train before the plague began. As he interviews the dying villagers, Maxwell realizes the town is haunted by its past as well: by a POW camp, where enemy soldiers were held during ``the War,'' hiding a shameful secret; by a collapsing bridge and a mine explosion that decimated the natives many years ago; and by a tangle of romantic liaisons. Eventually Robert Aiken, the pharmacist Maxwell suspects of mass poisoning, confesses to the murders, but his confession leaves so many questions unanswered- -Why did he kill his friends and neighbors? Why did they die without protest? Why did he poison himself?--that the real mystery may be why he confessed at all to a crime he may never have committed. There's nothing wrong with McCormack's conclusion that dead certainties may turn out to be unwarranted speculations. But it's a little late for yesterday's news to deliver the thrill of unknowing he presumably intends, especially when his storytelling apparatus-- unreliable narratives, guesswork, theories, and countertheories--takes such pains to blot out the brooding tale that may or may not lie beneath.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1994
ISBN: 0-312-11320-X
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994