Coach House sent me this book a couple of weeks ago, and I was eager to dive into it as soon as I got the chance. I remember the book being pitched to me back in March, and what I recall from that conversation was the description of the quirky protagonist/detective. A break from stereotypical archetypes of the genre, private eye Robert James (or Bob as he likes to be called) is one of the most memorable characters I’ve ever read. This is quite the accomplishment on its own, especially when the book is only 153 pages long. I’ll warn you that some my find his musings tiresome because he gets off track easily, and does a lot more thinking that doing in general. He has some of the common traits that other private investigators exhibit (problems with alcohol, strange sleeping patterns, strange bouts of isolation and loneliness) but this doesn’t phase me. His personality and dialogue is so different and unexpected that this is what keeps the book going, and ultimately sets it apart from other mysteries out there.
Bob doesn’t drive (much like my favourite detective, Jessica Fletcher of the classic TV show masterpiece Murder She Wrote) so he later befriends a flower delivery man who offers to chauffeur him around and help him with his case. This is in spite of the fact that the car is filled with flowers, which gives Bob headaches, but he prefers the rides to city transit so he puts up with the discomfort. It’s meaningless details like these that I can see putting off some readers, however as I mentioned before, the book is quite short, so it doesn’t drag on or slow down the plot in any way.
Aside from reminding us of just about everything, he also implies in the first few pages of the book that he’s not particularly good at his job: “There are a lot of things I get wrong when it comes to guesswork. I observe, and then I come to a conclusion, if there’s a conclusion to come to, which more often that not there isn’t. A lot remains unknown” (p. 13). So, just to recap, in the first few pages of the book we learn that a) Bob frequently talks about things that have no bearing on anything, b) he’s an alcoholic, and c) he can’t necessarily be trusted as a detective, or a narrator. So why continue reading? Personally, I’ve never read a mystery written like this before, and I wanted to see how it played out.
I won’t give anymore away, but I will say it’s worth your time to finish the book. It ends in a way most mysteries don’t, which is another reason why I liked it-it’s so unexpected. And to completely throw off the reader, Goldbach includes a summary sentence of each chapter at the very beginning of the book. Almost like a skeleton outline of the plot, this device is essentially an extended table of contents, again something I’ve never seen before, but intriguing nonetheless. So, looking for a new twist on an old favourite? Pick up The Devil and the Detective and you’ll be pushed out of your Janet Evanovich and James Patterson comfort zone.