BY SEAN CLARK

Author: Andrew F. Gulli (ed.)

2011, Touchstone

Filed Under: Mystery, Thriller.

The inevitable first question when looking at a mystery book with 26* authors is, how did they do it? The second is, of course, does it work at all?

I’m still not really sure the answer to question number one. I had fun imagining, while reading this book, that each author was given a character, or a role, kind of like a dinner party parlor game. By the end of the book, with enough authors writing multiple entries from varying perspectives it becomes clear that this wasn’t the case.

It also becomes clear that Gulli is a fine and comprehensive editor. The answer to the second question? Yeah, it works; everything is sewn up nicely.

The book opens with an affluent woman from San Francisco, Rosemary Thomas, being executed by lethal injection for the murder of her husband, art gallery curator and socialite Chris Thomas. Chris’s body was found decomposed almost beyond recognition and stuffed into an iron maiden in a German museum. It’s pretty clear (to the reader at least) there’s reasonable doubt as far as Rosemary’s guilt is concerned, but it becomes a politiczed case and she is basically fast-tracked to execution.

Then we jump back a few years, set the scene, meet the characters. Chris was crooked, so there are black market art dealers and mobsters, and he was a philanderer, so there’re a few of his lovers:  the ambitious young art dealer who owes Chris her career, and a beautiful grifter cum call girl. There’s an artist friend of Rosemary–who has good professional reason to hate Chris and his sexual advances–and her ex-con husband. There the billionaire philanthropist who funds the gallery–he was Rosemary’s friend–and there’s Rosemary’s money-grubbing lawyer brother. These were the last people to see Chris alive. Then at the center of it all, we meet Jon Nunn, the cop whose damning testimony was the final nail in Rosemary’s coffin.

Fast forward back to the present. Much of the book revolves around Nunn, who has slipped into a deep alcoholic depression, trying to reopen the case. He now thinks he got it wrong. Meanwhile a shadowy figure is also sneaking around and amonymously attacking and threatening the characters. From here, much of the book is your typical thriller. It’s exciting and fast paced, if a little predictable. But, when you consider how many ladles are stirring this pot, that’s actually pretty impressive. There are a fair amount of plot threads and character threads at work, and however Gulli managed it, it’s quite a feat that the cord never frays and the story keeps its pace and momentum nicely.

The novel reaches what I found to be its highest point about 2/3 in, when it shifts from a more taught thriller to a nice little whodunnit. All the characters, with their collected motives and alibis are brought together through Nunn’s detective work. A game of Clue ensues, with each character playing his or her hand as best they can. I’m a pretty infrequent mystery reader, I’ll admit. So maybe this is just the way these books are alway structured, I really don’t know. Nonetheless, I liked this part very much. It plays out fairly quickly, but that short time is a little cerebral and quite exciting.

Now I don’t know if its through smoothing by Gulli’s hand, or the nature of popular mystery writing, but none of the various parts of this tale feel disparate. It’s certainly not a collection of linked stories like I more or less expected it to be. Occasionally you can tell a change in author (besides the name given at the start of each chapter) through something subtle like shift in balance between dialogue and exposition, but on the whole, the style is very uniform.

In fact, the only thing that I didn’t enjoy thoroughly was the ending. I won’t spoil it of course, but it’s pretty predictable. I sort of expected that; it mostly only bothered me because of David Baldacci’s challenge in his preface:

And in my humble opinion it’s a twist that is so original you won’t have to concern yourself with bragging on your blog about how you figured it all out long before the conclusion. Well, I guess you can, but you’d be lying.

I figured it out before the end of the prologue–and I’m not lying. But that didn’t ruin this book for me. To tell the truth I got a bit of a rush to finally find out I was right all along. And I enjoyed the ride, working through the mystery to see if my suspicions were founded. I think anyone who likes mysteries or any of the contributoing authors will like this book. It’s not literary fare, just a quick and easy to digest mystery book. If you see it on an airport bookstore shelf, pick it up. It would make a great flight companion.

Similar Reads: The Thousand (Guilfoile), The Wreckage (Robotham), The Reversal (Connelly)

[A review was requested and a review copy provided.]

*Full List of Authors: Jeff Abbot, Lori Armstrong, Sandra Brown, Thomas Cook, Jeffery Deaver, Dana Gabaldon, Tess Gerritsen, Andrew F. Fulli, Peter James, J.A. Jance, Faye Kellerman, Raymond Khoury, John Lescroart, Jeff Lindsay, Gayle Lynds, Philip Margolin, Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Palmer, T. Jefferson Parker, Matthew Pearl, Kathy Reichs, Marcus Sakey, Jonathan Santlofer, Lisa Scottoline, R.L. Stine, & Marcia Talley.

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