Friday, February 26, 2021

The Conjure-Man Dies: A Mystery Tale of Dark Harlem, by Rudolph Fisher


Harper Collins, 2017
originally published 1932
293 pp


It is really sad that the author of this book, Rudolph Fisher,  died at such a young age, because after reading The Conjure-Man Dies, my thinking is that had he gone on to write more, I would have probably enjoyed reading everything this man would have produced.   An African-American writer of the Harlem Renaissance,  Fisher died at the young age of 37;  according to Sean Carlson in his recent article about the author for Motifon his death Zora Neale Hurston sent a telegram to Fisher's wife saying that "The world has lost a genius." Langston Hughes would later write that "... Fisher was too brilliant and too talented to stay long on this earth."  Written in 1932 and set completely in Harlem,  the book is the first crime novel to feature an all-Black cast of characters.  

The "conjure-man" is one N'Gana Frimbo, "A native African, a Harvard graduate, a student of philosophy -- and a sorcerer."   He works as a fortune teller/psychic out of an apartment in a house owned by the local undertaker in a room, "almost entirely in darkness," except for the illumination from  "an odd spotlight."  One night Jinx Jenkins and his friend Bubber Brown had gone to visit Frimbo, to get some advice about a business venture -- Jinx went in while Brown waited outside in the waiting room.  It wasn't long until Jinx came running out, grabbed Bubber and took him back to Frimbo's  consulting  room, where they found Frimbo dead. According to Jinx, he'd just   "stopped talkin', " after which Jinx turned the spotlight on the foturne teller and "there he was." It was "an hour before midnight" when the two ran across the street to Doctor John Archer for help, and on returning with them to Frimbo's apartment, Archer pronounces the conjure-man dead.  It is a true mystery; the wound on his head wouldn't have killed him, but on further examination, it turns out that the handkerchief stuffed down Frimbo's throat was more likely the cause of death.   The police are notified, and  Detective Perry Dart grabs the case.  

Dart is one of ten African-American Harlem cops who had been promoted from patrolmen to detective, and "knew Harlem from lowest dive to loftiest temple." The case should have been simple, since there  were only a limited number of suspects, all of whom had been who had either been to see Frimbo or were waiting to see him that night, yet it was anything but.  In the long run it will be four detectives who contribute to its solution, as  Dart and Archer enlist the help of Bubber and Jinx,  who had been  hoping to start a private detective business of their own, to help round up the people who had dealings with Frimbo that night.  All I will say is that all of them are in for a number of surprises before the case of the dead conjure-man is solved. 

from Black Past

I've read a lot of reader reviews in which most people figured out  the "who" pretty quickly, but I did not and it was a case of constant guessing right up until the end.  While that made me rather happy, what I found much more interesting was roaming the Harlem streets as Bubber and Jinx go out to round up the suspects.  When these people are interviewed,  their stories work outside of the mystery to provide a look at Harlem of the time, which is actually the reason I wanted to read this book.   As Scott Adlerburg from the LA Review of Books says in his revealing, in-depth article about The Conjure-Man Dies, Fisher adapts the mystery story "to his own concerns as a Harlem Renaissance novelist." 

In his 1971 introduction to this edition, Stanley Ellin states that in writing The Conjure-Man Dies, Rudolph Fisher "invests" his story with the "qualities of a social document recording a time and place without seeming to,"  and that's precisely what he's done.  Adlerburg notes that Fisher  "paved the way for the Harlem novels of Chester Himes," and that he "wrote something that has lasted" by offering the people of Harlem "as he actually saw them." 

It is a bit strange in the telling; on the other hand it is great fun and I laughed out loud more than once,  thoroughly enjoying every bit of this book for the crime and much, much more.   It won't be for everyone, but for readers who want a bit more in their mysteries or for readers who (like me) are more than interested in the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, it's a great match. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The German Client, by Bruno Morchio


Kazabo Publishing, 2020
originally published 2008 as Rossoamaro

kindle edition

A few days ago I received an email from Kazabo reminding me that in March of 2020 I had said that I would be very interested in reading and posting about this novel.  I was actually horrified that I had completely spaced on doing that, so I bought a kindle copy right away (even though the lovely people at Kazabo had sent me an ecopy -- the least I could do, really), and then  yesterday I dropped everything to spend the day reading.   All I can say is that in March of 2020, on top of everything else going on, coronavirus became a new and intense stressor in our home;  quite honestly, I'm not surprised that I dropped the ball.  So to Chiara, my humble and sincere apologies.  

Bruno Morchio (short bio here)  is the author of a number of books featuring private detective Bacci Pagano; while his work is well known in Italy, The German Client is the first of his novels to be translated into English.  The story begins in Genoa's Sestri Ponente  in January of 1944,  as a young girl makes her way to her boyfriend and "his comrades" who are waiting for her on Mount Gazzo, all partisans in a patriotic action group (PAG).   The Sestri Ponente had been the "center of industry" with "more workers than anywhere else," making it "the heart of Genoese Resistance."    Unfortunately for Tilde, she is out after curfew and is arrested.  She is suspected of being part of a "partisan relay" and spends the night in jail before she is released the next day. Fast forward to the present day.  Bacci Pagano waits outside of a guarded hospital room where a woman, Jasmine,  is fighting for her life. As the book blurb states, if she survives,"her testimony will shatter a notorious human trafficking ring."   As he sits outside of her door, he is approached by a certain Kurt Hessen from Köln who has a job for him.  It seems that he would like help in finding his brother, about whom he knows virtually  nothing except that "he is the son of an an Italian woman named Nicla" who may have been active in the Resistance and that he might live in Sestri Ponente. He knows no first name, no last name, and he has never seen a photo of the guy; what he does know is that he too is Nicla's son, and that his father had been stationed in Genoa as an officer of the Wehrmacht before being killed by a bomb at a local movie theater in May of 1944.  Hessen is dying, and he would like to find his brother to leave him a substantial inheritance.    At first Bacci is reluctant to take on the case but changes his mind.   He knows that he will have to start with former members of the Resistance, which he does, but when he begins asking questions, he soon realizes that even though World War II has been over a very long time, there are some things that these old Resistance partisans would rather not discuss.   Bacci also discovers that by talking about the past,  he "seems to have uncovered a world that had been safely buried." The story moves back and forth between present and past until these buried secrets are eventually revealed. 

The German Client is a fine historical crime drama as well as a reminder that while history is never forgotten, for those who were actually a part of it there are perhaps some things just too painful to speak of.  It's a fascinating book, especially when we're in the Sestri Ponente during 1944 along with the Resistance fighters.  The author sets up an ongoing tension there that highlights not only the dangers of being involved in these PAGs, but also the necessary secrecy and the questions of whom one can actually trust.  These pages were flipped like crazy because I was so involved; the present narrative is also done very well, always linked to the past, with one exception:  the story of how Jasmine came to be in the hospital, staged in the manner of a more contemporary-style thriller.  While I'm not a huge fan of that sort of thing, the mysteries of the past that connected to the mysteries of the present were more than enough to satisfy. 

One more thing: at the end of the kindle edition of this book is a link to Kazabo's website, so of course, I went there.  I was happily surprised looking at their "Criminal Destinations" series, all of which will be coming to my home at some point over the next couple months.  It's high time more of these books are translated and made available to an English-speaking mystery-reading public, so good on you, Kazabo! 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Lament for a Maker, by Michael Innes

ipso books, 2017
originally published 1938
275 pp


"Sen for the deth remeid is non,
Best that we for deth dispone
Eftir our deth that lif may we;
Timor Mortis conturbat me." 

Right at about page 165 of this book I stopped and made a comment on my goodreads group's "currently reading?" thread in which I said that it seems that everything has been laid out by now, and I'm stumped.  Looking back on it now,  it turns out that I may have jumped the gun a bit there thinking I had all pertinent information, but I still had no clue, and continued to remain in the dark until the very end.   This book is hands down one of the twistiest and strangest crime novels I've ever read, which is a good thing; at the same time, I had to really work at this one which raised my level of frustration more than once.  

The main action takes place, as the blurb for this book states, "in the depths of a howling winter night"  in a "remote castle isolated in the Scottish Highlands."  Down below Glen Echany is the village of Kinkeig where, when news came of the suicide of Randalf Guthrie, current laird of Echany,  "there was little grieving."  In fact, as we learn right away, "folk hated his very name."   This information comes from Ewan Bell, the shoemaker of Kinkeig, who lays the groundwork for this story and introduces us to the somewhat strange Guthrie and the castle's inhabitants (niece Christine, Hardcastle the sinister-seeming factor and his wife) before turning over the narration to others who will "tell of their own part in it."  Someone somewhere (maybe on goodreads? I don't remember now) mentioned "Rashomon-style," but for me the telling was much more in the vein of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone.  By the end of the story, four other people will offer their voices to the furthering of the tale:  Noel Gylby, a young man on his way home to London and ends up "benighted" at the castle with the young woman whose car he crashed into during a blinding snowstorm;  Aljo Wedderburn, attorney; John Appleby, detective-inspector from Scotland Yard and finally the "testament" from "the doctor"  before the narrative is handed off once more to two people already heard from.  Here's the thing:  piecing together their individual accounts, it seems that perhaps there is much more going on here than Ranald Guthrie simply taking "his own ungodly life" -- and yet, if it wasn't suicide, then what exactly happened that night? 

The title of this book derives from a poem written by William Dunbar (as this brief article notes, one of  "a group of medieval Scots poets known as the makars" -- or "makers" ), and according to Christine, it is  often chanted by her uncle as he roamed about his castle.   The haunting last line of each stanza "Timor mortis conturbat me" (fear of death disturbs me") adds to the already Gothic-ish atmosphere provided by the setting, the overall strangeness that pervades this novel, and even the sighting of ghosts by various people.  While it was written during the Golden Age, it comes across as an example of an atypical story of this time, which I actually prefer. For me it's a case of the stranger the better.

 I quite enjoyed Lament for A Maker, which aside from its bizarre story appealed to my puzzle-solver self who loves a challenge, and I definitely got that here.  I will also admit that the joke was on me more than once, when I thought I had figured it out and really hadn't,  but I'd much rather things go that way than actually solving a mystery early on.    Aside from Innes' The Mysterious Commission which wasn't a John Appleby novel, I haven't read any of his other books, so I'm pretty stoked to read more right now.   Yet, as noted earlier, I did have to put a lot of effort into this one. My main issue with this book is that  it's not often that I sit with my iPad at the ready while reading a mystery novel -- that's usually what I do while reading nonfiction or more esoteric, out-there kind of books --  but here it was almost a necessity, at least at first,  since the entire first chapter was offered in a Scots dialect causing much frustration and necessitating multiple google visits.  It took me a while to warm up to this story, but in the long run, it was well worth it. 

Readers who make it through that first chapter will find a fine puzzler here, so don't give up.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Problem of the Green Capsule, by John Dickson Carr


Bantam, 1964 (reprint)
originally published 1939
168 pp

mass market paperback

"...there was a trick in it somehow..."

The second book in the séptimo círculo collection, The Problem of the Green Capsule is book number ten in Carr's Gideon Fell series.  I have to be honest: I haven't read many of these novels -- after collecting them from library/yard sales for what seems like forever, they've been living in wicker shelf baskets for years.  It feels weird not to be starting with the first novel of this series as Carr refers to past Fell adventures in this book, but I didn't mind  --  he gave nothing away in terms of plot so I can go back and read them without knowing anything.  

Given what happens here, the original UK title, The Black Spectacles, makes much more sense than its American title (more on that later).    The cover is a bit more appropriate (and much better artistically) as well, with the main action of the story in plain view for everyone to see.  At the same time, I own a lot of these old Bantam reprints where they've put what just might be several key clues on the cover.  I used to think this was cool, but now it's just a bit annoying knowing what I'm supposed to be looking for. 

from Wikipedia

Detective Inspector Andrew MacAndrew Elliot of Scotland Yard's CID has been assigned to look into a case in the village of Sodbury Cross, where someone has been poisoning chocolates in Mrs. Terry's tobacco-and-sweet shop, somehow substituting strychnine-laced confections for the chocolate creams kept on the  shop's counter.     Sadly, eight year-old Frankie Dell died after he'd "wolfed down the lot" he'd bought, while the children of another family and their "maidservant" who had also picked up a half pound of the tainted chocolates became very ill.  The young niece of local businessman Marcus Chesney, Marjorie Wills (for reasons I won't go into here),  is the main suspect.  As Elliot begins to work with the local police on that case,  word arrives that Marcus Chesney is dead.  After arriving at the Chesney home, the detectives hear a fantastic story: as it happened, Chesney's murder not only occurred in front of a small group of people, but that 

"every one of 'em saw the murderer and followed every move he made."

Even more surprising is that "they can't agree on anything that happened."   

What comes next is unlike anything I've ever read before.

Chesney, who has as a hobby "the study of crime," had earlier invited his niece, her fiancé George Harding, his brother Joe and a friend of theirs, a professor Ingram, to a "performance,"  a sort of "psychological test" to start at midnight.  His helper Wilbur Emmet, one of the men who worked at the Chesney home, was to have a role in this scene, and after it was over, Chesney would have a list of questions that the participants were to answer, based on what they'd seen.  George was to film the entire thing as well.   What happens next went according to plan, except for the fact that Chesney was murdered and Emmet was found severely wounded outside next to a bundle of clothing and other props used during Chesney's little game.  The problem is that the potential suspects were all together at the time, never out of sight of one another.  When another murder occurs, a rather mystified Elliot turns to Dr. Fell, who is staying in a hotel in nearby Bath, enlisting his help to solve this rather baffling crime.  

I mentioned earlier that the original UK title, The Black Spectacles, turns out to be more appropriate than its American counterpart.  In a letter from Marcus Chesney written earlier to Fell which he doesn't hand over right away to the police, Chesney had noted the following:

"All witnesses, metaphorically, wear black spectacles. They can neither see clearly, nor interpret what they see in the proper colours. They do not know what goes on on the stage, still less what goes on in the audience.  Show them a black-and-white record of it afterwards, and they will believe you; but even then they will be unable to interpret what they see."

 As Dr. Fell says  before he goes off to observe George's film record of that strange night,  "that, together with what we are going to see and hear to-night, should complete our case." 

 I'll confess that I had absolutely no clue as to the who and the how before reaching the end and the big reveal, always a good sign.   I'm also sure that the phrase "jaw-dropping" was more than appropriate at that point, garnering silent but worthy praise for the mind that put this puzzler together. At just over 160 pages it should have been a quick read, but there are a number of elements at play here, each to be unfurled slowly,  mused over, and put on hold in the brain as the story progresses.    Not only is there a solid, impossible mystery here, but one of the added perks from my point of view is a brief, whirlwind history of infamous real-life poisoners, in which Fell expounds on the psychological make-up of people who had turned to this method of killing.   Another clue that The Problem of the Green Capsule is not going to be your run-of-the-mill Golden-Age detection story comes from the book's subtitle, "Being the Psychologist's Murder Case."  Add to that the author's  remarkable construction of the sleight-of-hand, misdirection and illusion that rule the day in this well-plotted novel, and it becomes something rather ingenious.  I also had great fun with this book, which in the end, is the most important thing.

Definitely recommended.  

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Beast Must Die, by Nicholas Blake


ipso books, 2017
originally published 1938
251 pp


While I'm very a much a mystery series purist, meaning I have to read them in order, over the rest of this year I'll be making a lot of exceptions, including this book which is number four in the series featuring Blake's private detective Nigel Strangeways.   There's a reason for this -- my crime/mystery shelves are overflowing with books I've picked up here and there over the decades that I've never read, so in trying to get through at least some of them, I needed some organizational help.  I found it by chance while reading through a book called Serial Crime Fiction: Dying for More (eds. Jean Anderson, Carolina Miranda and Barbara Pezzotti; Palgrave MacMillan 2015) when I came across Miranda's chapter entitled "More Than the Sum of its Parts: Borges, Bioy Casares and the Phenomenon of the Séptimo Circulo Collection" (31-40).     Fascinated, I went online to discover exactly which titles were included, landing here.  As I read through the list, I realized that I owned more than quite a few of these books, and thus the decision was made to read as many as I can  this year and very likely on into the next.  Problem solved. 

Just a bit about the Séptimo Circulo Collection before moving on.  According to an article at the blog of the International Crime Fiction Research Group ,  this series of books was the creation of Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares which began in 1945.  The name derives from  the seventh circle of Hell, à la Dante's Divine Comedy,  the outer ring of which is reserved for various types of violent criminals.  You can read more about how this collection came about in an excellent article by Scott Adlerberg at Crimereads ,  but basically the idea is that prior to the publication of this series,  mystery/crime fiction in Argentina had been classified as "literatura de kiosco"  or newsstand literature, looked down on by as Carolina Miranda notes, " 'serious' Argentine writers,"  but that all changed in the hands of "a close circle of educated writers, translators and editors" including sisters Silvina and Victoria Ocampo, with Borges and Bioy Casares at "the core."   One main influence that would help turn what Scott Adlerberg  refers to as "amusing confections, at best" into a  "literary phenomenon worthy of the educated reader" as well as a "popular ... form of entertainment available to the less educated reader"  was Victoria Ocampo's influential literary magazine Sur, which served "as a platform promoting and validating the collection," publishing seven articles between 1940 and 1948  "specifically referring to Séptimo Circulo titles" (Miranda, 34).   There's much, much  more to this story, of course, but any of the links I've provided will fill in the gaps here, and there are a number of articles online in Spanish as well.  

Original 1938 UK edition.  Photo from John Atkinson Fine and Rare Books 

All right -- back to the book now, which is, if I may say so, a brilliant piece of writing, worthy of the mental round of applause I gave it upon finishing.   It is a solid whodunit -- I went through more than one round of  "it was him/her" and still did not get it right.   It's also a story about which I won't be saying very much, since any hint of what happens here would be a crime in itself.   The barebones outline is this: Frank Cairnes, a writer of crime novels under the name of Felix Lane, is out to get whoever it was that was responsible for the death of his young son in a hit-and-run accident.  As the novel opens, we are made privy to Felix Lane's diary entry of 20 June 1937, which begins as follows:  
"I'm going to kill a man. I don't know his name, I don't know where he lives, I have no idea what he looks like. But I am going to find him and kill him ..."

Writing the first part of this book as Cairnes' diary is a move of sheer genius on the author's part, as there is no way anyone will put the book down at that point.  Aside from Cairnes' desire for revenge, and his plans to "kill a man," just some nine days later we discover that he has slowly pieced together the identity of the driver as well as the woman in the car at the time. It's no spoiler to reveal that Cairnes now has his sights set on George Rattery (it's right there on the back-cover blurb), who lives with his wife, his son and his mother in Gloucestershire.  Eventually he meets Rattery, and not too long afterwards has ingratiated his way into the Rattery home as Felix Lane, where he has devised (and detailed) the perfect method of exacting his revenge, with the added bonus of making George's death look like an accident.   One would think that knowing what's going to happen would not leave much room for surprise, but the author  is not quite finished with his reader yet.  After a shift in viewpoint that begins part two, it seems that not only is Cairnes' murder attempt thwarted, but later, someone back at the Rattery home has taken it upon himself or herself to finish the job, albeit in a different way.   A phone call brings in private detective Nigel Strangeways, who agrees to help Cairnes, as he has now become the prime suspect in the eyes of the police even though he swears he is innocent.     

Not one more word of plot shall pass my lips (okay, in this case my fingertips) but I will say that my first venture into the mind of Nicholas Blake has been a successful one.   Not only is it worthy of my picky inner armchair-detective self,  but it also offers an insightful character study as well as the ingenious use of literary references that clicked into place in my head only after finishing the book.  Definitely not your typical 1930s, golden-age mystery, and it's one I can most certainly recommend.  I loved Georgia Strangeways; I'll now have to backtrack and go back to book number one to find out more about Nigel. 

My advice: do NOT read reviews of this book that want to take you to the big reveal. You'll kick yourself if you do, trust me. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Portrait of a Murderer: A Christmas Crime Story, by Anne Meredith


Poisoned Pen Press, 2018
originally published 1933
243 pp


Warning: cute and cozy this book is definitely not.  While it begins at a family gathering at Christmas, nobody's going a-wassailing, nor is there even the slightest hint of sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting tingling too -- this is the story of an unpremeditated but cold-blooded murder, the person responsible, and the aftermath.  

The usual Christmas tradition at the Gray house is for the Gray children to come to the family home. Out of six, there are two already living at Kings Poplars; the remaining four had long ago left to make their way in the world.  Yuletide is not necessarily a happy time for this family, because, as we are told early on, patriarch Adrian Gray is, "on good terms with none of his children."  We learn why this is over the first forty-something pages, and we also learn why it is that, as the back-cover blurb notes,

"None of Gray's six surviving children is fond of him; several have cause to wish him dead."

Christmas morning rolls around, and Adrian has failed to join the family for breakfast or for the usual Christmas task of reading the lessons.  When he is found dead in his library, it was thought at first he'd suffered a stroke but when the police arrive, it doesn't take long to figure out that Adrian's demise was anything but natural.   The killer, however, is ready for them, having arranged things so that the accusing finger points elsewhere.     I won't reveal any details, but this setup makes for very tense reading right up to the end as an innocent person is arrested, tried, and sentenced.   Will justice be served or will a murderer remain free to walk the streets?  

Portrait of a Murderer is a product of the interwar period, a time of great social change, and the author uses the decline in class as well as the perceived decline in morality in examining her players. It's done very well -- as Martin Edwards quotes Dorothy Sayers in his introduction, this story focuses  "less emphasis on clues and more on character. "  It's not long after the first pages are turned before this point becomes crystal clear, as Meredith weaves her way through the lives of the Grays, laying a foundation for the rest of the story.  She obviously had a keen understanding of human nature that allowed her to grasp the inner selves of these people and to portray their psychologies at work both individually and vis-a-vis  other family members. Readers who must have likeable characters, or characters with whom they can identify likely won't find that in this novel, as the author reveals that with an exception or two, the Grays are a pretty despicable lot.

  I feel like my hands are tied here, since giving away any more about this book than I've already done would be doing a disservice to potential readers. I will say that although the forty-plus pages in part one are mettle-testing to even the most patient of readers, do not give up -- the information gleaned from there will serve you greatly in the long run.   This is the sort of crime novel I love reading, answering the question of why rather than focusing on the who.  As Carolyn Wells is quoted as saying in the introduction, it is indeed a most "Human Document." 

I couldn't put it down once I'd started.  

Friday, December 25, 2020

Where's the warning label? Rules for Perfect Murders, aka Eight Perfect Murders, by Peter Swanson

File under:  WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?????   I don't know what was going through this author's head, but what he's done here is absolutely unforgivable.  Luckily I picked up the cheap paperback edition, because this book got tossed more than once across the room, something I do when I am so utterly frustrated with what I'm reading and don't want to scream. 

Since I don't read much in the way of modern crime fiction these days, trust me, the premise has to be out there enough to capture my attention, and that is what drew me to this book.  I reprint here the back-cover blurb:

"Years ago Malcolm Kershaw wrote a list of his 'Eight Favorite Murders' for his Old Devils mystery bookshop blog. Among others, it included those from Agatha Christie's The A.B.C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train and Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Now, just before Christmas, Malcolm finds himself at the heart of an investigation -- as an FBI agent believes someone may be re-enacting each of the murders on his list."

Oh, I thought, this sounds really good, and with the mention of the older crime novels I was hooked.  Then I started reading and nearly choked.  Some seventeen pages in, Malcolm's old blog post was offered in its entirety, with each of the eight books not only summarized (which is okay), but the plot reveals given away (which is not okay).  To make matters worse, as we get more into this story, the author decides to go further,  giving away all of the show on each of the eight "perfect murders,"  and he's not quite done.  He goes on to spoil other classics, including (and this is truly an act of anathema),  Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  

Go ahead, feel free to argue, saying that the author in his own way is paying homage to these older books. Now  I'm no stranger to homage -- the last crime novel I read, Yukito Ayatsuji's The Decagon House Murders, was clearly a tribute to Christie's And Then There Were None (which, by the way, Swanson spoils in this book as well) -- but giving everything away is not the way to do it. 

Then there's the story itself, which to me was dull, lacking enough suspense to take me to the level of being fully engaged.  It's like this: since the back-cover blurb already reveals that "someone may be re-enacting the murders," we already know what's coming.  We're also reminded of the exact book each murder is based on, including those that happened in the past.   Not only that, but it was so easy to put my finger on who exactly is behind all the killing, since the author practically gives it away close to the start.   And just one more thing:  there could have been so much paring done here to make it sleeker, more taut, and to heighten the suspense; in short, some judicious editing would have certainly helped. 

Just so you know, the eight books that the author totally wrecks for potential readers are 

The Red House Mystery, by AA Milne
Malice Aforethought, by Anthony Berkeley Cox
The ABC Murders, by Agatha Christie
Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain
Strangers on a Train, by Patricia Highsmith
The Drowner, by John D. MacDonald*
Deathtrap, by Ira Levin 
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

I asterisked The Drowner because it's the only one of the books (like the narrator of this story reminds his readers, Deathtrap is a play) I haven't read, and now I guess I don't need to since I know exactly what's going to happen and how.  Too bad -- that one looked like fun. 

I'm looking at reader reviews and people are absolutely loving this novel, which, you know, to each his/her own.   I am afraid that I am once again swimming against the tide here.

I have to be honest and say that for some time now,  I've been much happier with crime novels from yesteryear -- for the most part they're well and often uniquely plotted, characters seem to be more well defined, and even in the worst ones there's usually a modicum of suspense to be had, none of which is the case here.  

Feel free to throw tomatoes. I don't care.