Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi – review

Published by Michael Joseph

Publication date – 20 August 2020

Source – review copy

All murder mysteries follow a simple set of rules.

Grant McAllister, an author of crime fiction and professor of mathematics, once sat down and worked them all out.

But that was thirty years ago. Now he’s living a life of seclusion on a quiet Mediterranean island – until Julia Hart, a sharp, ambitious editor, knocks on his door. His early work is being republished and together the two of them must revisit those old stories.

An author, hiding from his past, and an editor, probing inside it.

But as she reads the stories, Julia is unsettled to realise that there are parts that don’t make sense. Intricate clues that seem to reference a real murder.

One that’s remained unsolved for thirty years . . .

Julia Hart has travelled to a small Mediterranean island to meet Grant McAllister. She wants to re-publish his only crime fiction book, a book which looked at the art of killing from a mathematical view point. When she meets Grant and they begin to work through stories together, Julia begins to realise there is more to the tales and to Grant than first meets the eye.

Eight Detectives is made up of short murder stories, interspersed with scenes involving Julia and Grant. The reader reads the stories seemingly at the same time as Julia does, with the pair discussing the mathematical formulation behind the murder. Each story deals with a different example of Grant’s theory. Each ‘detective’ tale is a great short story in it’s own right, with homages to golden age crime writers dotted about.

Julia is the first to make reference to a real life murder that occurred around the time the stories were originally written. From details from the incident to the name the press gave to the murder, references are dotted about and Julia seems intent on finding out more. She also wants to know why Grant, who wrote seemingly perfect murder stories, never wrote fiction again and has remained on a small island, alone for so long.

Grant for his part seems to be a bumbling former academic, his memory fading as he does not recall immediately the full details of each story. His forte is maths and the maths behind the tales is where he feels most comfortable.

Whilst the time period is never confirmed the clues would lead to them being set around the 30s or thereabouts. There is the feel of a golden age crime story about each murderous narrative. The opulence of a villa in a sunny foreign climate, the disheveled private detective investigating how a woman came to be found at the bottom of a rocky cliff, the murder of a girl in her bathtub, all have an air of a bygone time.

The reader gets many attempts to guess whodunit, each story a clever little logic puzzle to work out in a handful of pages. There is a skill to writing a good short story. Brevity without stripping back on the detail and a need to engage the reader from the outset. There’s more skill needed to thread those apparently disparate stories together to create a cohesive whole, with characters that tie them together. Luckily the author pulls this off in Eight Detectives. If you usually prefer short stories then this is the novel for you as it is lots of short stories. If you like full length crime novels then this is the one for you as it just that.

Each character seems fully formed on the page, despite being introduced in only a few words. Their mannerisms, clothes and actions are easily envisaged. The scenes in each story are easy to imagine, from restaurants across from busy department stores to a lonely wind-swept island accessible only by boat, each can be vividly seen as the reader watches more deaths unfold.

This was a book that I wanted to race through to but also wanted to savor. I enjoyed every page and it is a book I would happily read again in the future. It is not a bloody, gory book, though there is blood spilled. It is not a slow paced, plodding drama, though there are characters who don’t want to race to the finish. It is a brilliant balance of the two. There’s not really much else I can say without revealing too much  and spoiling the experience, so I will leave it there.

As good as finding an undiscovered box set of Poirot on a wet bank holiday weekend.

Very cleverly done. I’ll be keen to read more from Alex Pavesi in the future.

About the author

Alex Pavesi lives in London, where he writes full time. He previously worked as a software engineer and before that studied mathematics to PhD level, during which time he worked as a part-time bookseller. Eight Detectives is his first novel.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. This sounds lovely, Janet! I don’t read a lot of modern fiction, but I think this may be right up my street with my love of Golden Age crime!


  2. I had high hopes for this when I read about it, so I’m very pleased that you thought so well of it.


  3. FictionFan says:

    Sounds like fun! Reminds me a bit of the premise of Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders – a book within a book containing clues to a real crime.


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