Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Jesse Ball

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-307-27885-2
Publisher: Vintage

A young man with an unusual gift is drawn into a multifarious conspiracy.

Poet Ball uses the language of his trade to breathe life into his inspired thriller about memory, truth and the unsound constructs in which we house these ethereal concepts. His protagonist, James Sim, is an unlikely hero—and possibly an unreliable observer—who is saddled with a peculiar talent for remembering things, a condition known as mnemonics. By extension, the odd turn of events that overwhelm him over the next seven days are described with a delicious dichotomy that alternates between linguistic precision and cinematic slight-of-hand. After he witnesses a man named McHale stabbed to death, Sim cautiously investigates the murder. Soon the amateur detective confronts his only lead, a man named Estrainger, who leaps from a high window to his death. Sim postulates that the murders are connected to a rash of ritualistic suicides outside the White House; each victim was carrying dire warnings from a revolutionary with the moniker “Samedi.” For his trouble, Sim is kidnapped by McHale’s doppelganger and taken to a “verisylum,” a baffling treatment center for chronic liars. It is here that Sim finds a familiar face, Grieve (aka Lily Violet), who may or may not have a look-alike of her own. The institution’s arcane rules of discourse are staggeringly tricky. “The idea is that when many lies are told, unfettered by immediate comparison to fact, they end up comprising a kind of truth. On that truth too lies can be based,” the second McHale tells Sim. Working within this unsteady structure, Sim struggles to understand his place in the scheme and identify the “plague of deafness” that Samedi promises to deliver on an ill-mannered world. Truth and beauty are largely absent in Sim’s story, and his otherworldly adventure comes to a vivid but ambiguous end. Yet for all the novel’s twists and turns, Ball is clearly in love with language, and this uncommon adventure is an apt delivery vehicle for his own substantial gifts.

An unorthodox detective story—the author’s fiction debut—that uses poetry to sharpen its edge.