The Rashomon effect is at work in this anatomy of a small-town murder, with even the perpetrator offering more than one version of events.
Irish writer Toomey (Huddleston Road, 2012, etc.) plays with the sort of whodunit that reveals the who up front and goes on to explore the how and why. The book opens with a writer named Charlie Vaughan receiving a recorded first-person confession from the murderer, a schoolteacher named Albert Jackson, and a request to write a novel about his premeditated slaying of his wife. Jackson believes a fictional version derived from his testimony will help his children realize he is “not a monster.” The confession follows him through the actions of one day while his thoughts trace the course of a marriage that has deteriorated from love to annoyance to estrangement but perhaps not to bloody-minded revulsion. Toomey gives a detailed, persuasive view of an unsettled mind for which murder is far from the only recourse. The confession also reveals a self-absorbed and pompous man touched by a comic infatuation with another teacher. There’s something of Lucky Jim here in the way Jackson peppers his narrative with acerbic asides criticizing everyone around him. The book also includes witness accounts from a student, a teacher, a barista, and policemen, among others, as well as conversations with Jackson himself and his psychiatrist, both of whom allow Toomey to have some quasi-meta fun with the process of writing a book like the one he has written. The book indeed seems loosely built and rattles a bit structurally, as if the author hadn’t quite settled on one version of his tale. But don’t quit before the closing pages, a third-person account written by the murderer in response to Vaughan’s demands about six hours missing from his first testimony.
Toomey is aiming to do more than solve a mystery and achieves a psychologically intriguing, unnerving character study.