A mystery novel tells the story of a man’s involvement in two homicides separated by decades and continents.
Otis Oliver was almost at the Sex Pistols’ historic second show in 1976 in Manchester, England, but he was turned away at the door for only being 8 years old. During his sad walk home, he had the misfortune of discovering a mutilated murder victim lying in an alley: “A Mod sacrificed on the altar of indie with a sweet little bob and a PVC coat open to show a bright and tight minidress under’t all, stained and soaked dark now with blood come streaming down from new holes bored into her neck and a cavern hollowed from her stomach.” Now 49, Otis is a bestselling author and podcaster who lives in the mountains of Colorado with his sister and nephew. This morning, he sees something unexpected in the newspaper: another woman murdered and disfigured in the exact same way, this time in nearby Telluride. What are the chances of this happening? Otis quickly sets out to find the photographer who reported on the new killing, who sends him to the college student who discovered the victim. At a college poetry reading in Denver, Otis encounters Mary, an enigmatic but beautiful woman who might be Mary Shelley. Or James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia. As Otis tries to put together the signs and wonders around him—the words “suffer a sea change,” the eruption of a volcano in Iceland, and a whole swath of literary coincidences—he may find the solution to both murders or maybe something even greater about himself. In this ambitious novel, Ingwalson’s (The Baby Monitor, 2017, etc.) prose slips in and out of Otis’ Mancunian dialect, flecked with rich allusions to rock, literature, and various Colorado locales. Otis’ voice is noirish in a way that will strike some readers as lyric and others as a bit labored: “For a few seconds I stared back, my eyes gone black as cats as I surveyed the silk of her neck. This one’s world had been night for far too long. She’d never seen a beach, she’d never cared for light. A streetlamp kicked on and it made her flesh milk-flesh.” This is an elegant mystery in the mode of Thomas Pynchon or Jonathan Lethem, invested more in the journey than the outcome. But even by those parameters, the ending is somewhat less than satisfying.
A stylish murder tale that doesn’t quite achieve its own aspirations.