Meet Detective Inspector J. Spider Rembrandt, who might be a real detective, or who might be a real spider, or who might be Salvador Dalí. No, Dalí’s dead. Don’t rule him out, though. Meet Goolcock, too. Is he DI Rembrandt’s sergeant? Watson to his Holmes? He might be. On the other hand, he’s the son of the Reverend Goolcock, who might be a leading suspect if he hadn’t utterly vanished before the case even opened. The case? Is there one? There might be. As Detective Spider Rembrandt puts it, “Occasionally we have, and sometimes do not have a corpse. A corpse, moreover, who insists on proving herself not to be the person we think she is.” Maybe he’s talking about the delectable Reedy Buttons, who might or might not be the tall, brown-haired woman who drives the detective and others bananas. And, of course, whether or not she’s the irresistible femme fatale in question, she might or might not be that most confusing and protean of in-again-out-again corpses, the stiff whom Rembrandt the sleuth (or painter, or spider) keeps misplacing. At any rate, there does seem to be a murder weapon: “a solid ivory Benin love goddess.” Or possibly “an Aztec sacrificial dagger.” Or maybe . . .
Amusing, surprising, often lyrical, but full of tiresome stretches that are none of these, and in the end a failed attempt to make a virtue out of the incomprehensible. A remarkably perverse debut from a gifted British poet and teacher.