Much less interesting than City of Glass (1985), this second exercise in avant-garde mystery metafiction follows a predictable, essentially familiar scenario: a detective, hired to shadow an enigmatic stranger, finds himself caught up in an existential, doppelganger-ish identity crisis. The detective, N.Y.C. circa 1947, is called Blue. He's hired by White to keep a close watch on Black, who spends nearly all his time writing (the story we're reading, perhaps?) in a Brooklyn Heights apartment. Blue, from a room across the way, conscientiously keeps a record of Black's virtually static life--while Blue's own life becomes similarly vacant. After months of this, Blue begins to suspect that White and Black are conspiring against him; he therefore pushes himself into confrontations with Black, initially genial (they discuss the Brooklyn ghosts of Walt Whitman et al.) but increasingly tense. (Black seems to be suicidal--or homicidal?) And there's an inevitably violent windup before the numbly literary fade-out. ("In my secret dreams, I like to think of Blue booking passage on some ship and sailing to China. Let it be China, then, and we'll leave it at that.") The flat, denatured, present-tense narration here--Auster is very much under certain nouveau-French influences--is fairly effective at first, with an understated equivalent of film noir that is only half-ironic. Finally, however, despite literary/philosophical digressions (from Walden to It's a Wonderful Life), this is a thin, derivative novella--devoid of genuine mystery-puzzle appeal (unlike City of Glass), thoroughly cliched in its mystery-as-metaphor pretensions.