An aging anthropologist blurs the line between obsession and research in Richmond’s character study–cum-murder mystery.
When 25-year-old Alice Salmon, a promising young reporter with a party-girl streak, is found dead in a frozen Southampton canal after a night drinking with friends, it seems like an tragic accident, a raucous evening gone horribly awry. But to professor Jeremy Cooke, his former student is no ordinary victim, and in her death, he sees his next project—and his own chance at redemption. By collecting the fragments she left behind—the text messages and emails, the news articles and diary entries—he will do more than make sense of her death. He will revive her. “Might it be possible,” he wonders, “to reconstruct a life out of such fragments? To reassemble a person, piece them back together from such soluble shards?” But if one half of the resulting opus belongs to Alice, the journals and tweets and Spotify playlists adding up to a kind of coming-of-age story, then the other half—the mystery half—belongs to Jeremy himself. In letters to his childhood pen pal, he theorizes, opines, speculates, and self-flagellates, piecing together what happened to Alice while coming to terms with fragments of his own history. It’s a clever device: Jeremy’s letters are part of the Alice-ephemera, but they’re also the glue that holds it together. But despite the many details that ought to add up to psychological nuance, Jeremy never quite transcends pompous professorial clichés, and his overwrought narration begins to grate. The novel’s suspense may lie in Jeremy’s letters, but the book is most alive (ironically) when it’s with Alice, and the details of her life trump the ultimately hollow intrigue of her death.
Fun but flimsy.