Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Mystery Man

Title: Mystery Man

Author: Colin Bateman

Number of pages: 422

Started: 10 November 2011

Finished: 15 November 2011

Opening words:

There aren't many private eyes in Belfast, and now, apparently, there's one less. I know this because his shop was right next to mine. His name was Malcolm Carlyle and he seemed a decent sort; he would call in for a chat and a browse now and again when business was slow. His business, that is. His business was called Private Eye, big yellow letters on a black background. Then one day he didn't open up, and I never saw him again, and that was the start of my problems because he was still listed in the Yellow Pages, but when people couldn't get a response on the phone well, they thought, he must be good, he's so busy, he's changed his number, gone ex-directory, so they'd come down to plead their case, find the door locked, stand back and take a look at the place and see my shop next door and think there must be some kind of a connection because you don't have a shop called Private Eye and a shop called No Alibis sitting side by side for no reason at all. So they'd come in and furtively browse through the crime books, all the time eying me up behind the counter, trying to work out if I could possibly be the private eye they were looking for and if there was a connecting door between the shops, and whether I did this bookselling thing as a kind of respectable cover for my night time manoeuvres on the cold, dark streets of Belfast. They'd gotten it wrong of course. Book selling is more cut throat than you can possibly imagine.
The first fella who actually approached me was called Robert Geary; he was a civil servant in the Department of Education in Bangor, he was married, he had three children aged from nine to twelve and he supported Manchester United. He told me all this while making a meal out of paying for an Agatha Christie novel, so I knew something was up. No one had bought a Christie in years.

Read a longer extract here

Plot summary:

He’s the Man With No Name and the owner of No Alibis, a mystery bookshop in Belfast. But when a detective agency next door goes bust, the agency’s clients start calling into his shop asking him to solve their cases. It’s not as if there’s any danger involved. It’s an easy way to sell books to his gullible customers and Alison, the beautiful girl in the jewellery shop across the road, will surely be impressed. Except she’s not – because she can see the bigger picture. And when they break into the shuttered shop next door on a dare, they have their answer. Suddenly they’re catapulted along a murder trail which leads them from small-time publishing to Nazi concentration camps and serial killers...

What I thought:

This was a very readable book with an underlying dark sense of humour. The main, seemingly nameless, character runs a crime bookshop and starts, unwillingly, to gain the “custom” from the defunct detective agency next door.

It was a well-paced book and the main characters each had their own quirks that brought humour to the book. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the outcome of the book – the plot worked, but it was perhaps a more serious outcome than the rest of the book might have suggested.

It was a good book and the first of a series, which I will be pursuing, particularly as the book finished on a cliff-hanger of sorts...

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