Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SHAVING WITH OCCAM by Jacob M. Appel Kirkus Star


by Jacob M. Appel

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-73536-013-3
Publisher: Press Americana

A clever amateur detective investigates a murder in this seriocomic mystery.

The tale’s narrator is Henrietta Florence Van Duyn Brigander, aka Granny Flamingo, aka The Mad Bird Lady of East 14th Street. Born into a wealthy and well-connected, if quirky, old family, she slipped into schizophrenia early on in life and has been on the streets or in psychiatric wards ever since. Now, someone in the mental illness ward at Mount Hebron hospital has been murdered. Henrietta is determined to find the killer, especially because she was sweet on the victim, Big George Currier. So it’s off to the races, all over Manhattan and Queens, while the Albanian Mafia may be out to kill her. Readers meet all sorts of street denizens worthy of Dickens, plus some sleazy bureaucrats and time servers: It is the Big Apple full bore. Eventually, Henrietta arrives at a possible solution that is outrageously improbable but somehow logical. The English philosopher William of Ockham would be proud of his acolyte. Appel is clearly having great fun, and Henrietta is a wonderful character. She was born to tell her story, just as Holden Caulfield and Ishmael were. She is talkative and adept at digressions, especially about the history of her illustrious family, piling anecdote upon anecdote. Anyway is her device for gulping for a breath in this cascade. Twins are a motif here. Big George and Little Abe were identical twins, and Henrietta and her deceased brother, Rusky, were fraternal twins (he was also schizophrenic, and he stepped into an empty elevator shaft). The author makes excellent use of this trope (see Shakespeare, et. al.). Besides the vivid Brigander family anecdotes are Henrietta’s intriguing cultural and historical allusions. The woman is a font of trivia and constantly annoyed that others are so clueless. This gives rise to the exhilarating book’s last 50-some pages, which are titled “Glossary of Things You Should Know…” and enlighten readers about all those allusions. Appel is a working psychiatrist (write what you know), among other things—he has picked up advanced degrees almost like a hobby.

A giddy journey with an unforgettable sleuth to guide readers.