Mark Smith’s Literary Masterpiece of Crime Fiction.
A National Book Award Finalist
The blockbuster New York Times bestseller.
“Remarkable for both its ambition and its accomplishment, it reads as though it were written by a resurrected Charles Dickens, one chilled by a hundred years of graveyard brooding…every page is a pleasure to read,” New York Times
A killer calling himself The Deathmaker is on the loose, pursued by Arnold Magnuson, a grief-stricken detective on the verge of a mental breakdown. Magnuson’s dogged investigation to find the killer, and himself, takes him deep into urban Chicago, laying bare the corrupt city and its seething soul in all its macabre, heartbreaking, and violent complexity. It’s a sprawling, utterly compelling story, widely regarded as a stunning literary achievement and perhaps the best detective novel ever written.
“A masterpiece . . . raises Dickens’ benign ghost to remind us again that we're all connected, all both innocent and guilty,” Kirkus Reviews
“A brilliant and arresting novel which so far transcends the detective genre that inspired it as to stand in a category of its own,” Arkansas Gazette
In its sustained vitality, power and scale, it is unlike any other fiction I have read....A complex and unforgettable novel,” The Times (London)
Well after being seduced by the premise of reading the “best detective book ever,” an assertion somewhat reinforced by the dynamic duo of Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman over at Brash Books republishing this 1973 tome, so how did we get on?
Enjoyable at times, gripping at times, pretty amazing at times, but by turn frustrating, irritating and by the finish a little bit anti-climactic.
We have an escaped madman on a mission of revenge, over his treatment at the hands of Farquarson (and others, including Magnuson) many years ago. Farquarson, a Chicago business magnate, on his death-bed summons our detective – Magnuson to tackle the threat posed. Magnuson sets off on his quest.
Magnuson’s pursuit of the madman, Joseph Helenowski was compelling and exciting. All through the night from one scene of crime to another. Helenowski always one step ahead and despite his insanity executing his plans with a remarkable clarity of purpose and with extreme violence. Magnuson seemingly attuned to Helenowski’s thought processes, always arriving just that little bit too late to prevent another death. On and on – possibly a dozen, by the time we were sated.
As such a scenario plays out, it makes compelling reading. But frustratingly for me at least; very often the narrative meanders off-point and we are treated (possibly not the right word) to pages of dense descriptive prose only tangentially related to more urgent matters at hand.
An amazing portrait of Chicago in all its glory and squalor, with its wealth, its poverty and ghettos, its politics and its racial and ethnic differences, its geography, its climate, its architecture, its bars and taverns and rivers and parks, its festivals and its people.
Extremely dense at times, enjoyable overall, but sometimes maddening. I’m glad I read it, though I did have to devour it in bite-sized chunks – limiting myself to a chapter a day and on the odd occasion two - over more than a month. Any faster and I think my head would probably have exploded.
Blog friend Moira over at Clothes in Books got there before me. Her thoughts are here.
4 from 5
I bought my 636 page chunkster – with 45 lines of text to a page - second hand sometime in the last year or so online. Brash Books have re-issued this recently in a slightly more accessible format on Kindle.
Mark Smith (born 1935) is an American novelist. A professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, he is the author of several books, including Toyland (1965), The Middleman (1967), Doctor Blues (1983), and Smoke Street (1984). His The Moon Lamp (1976) and The Delphinium Girl (1980) were Book of the Month Club selections.Smith is probably best known for The Death of the Detective (1973), nominated for the National Book Award in 1974, and a New York Times bestseller.
Well done for getting through it, it really is a monolith. It sounds as though we had similar reactions, perhaps I liked it a little better? I do find myself thinking about it quite a lot since, which is always a good sign. (And every book seems short after reading this one.) Still, it is a huge solid achievement, and I felt I knew the streets and districts of Chicago afterwards. Thanks for the shoutout!ReplyDelete
Maybe a tad more than me, it hasn't made me rush out to hoover up everything else he has written. Spectacular when it was rolling, but many chapters I did find myself counting the pages.....conflicted really.Delete
Interesting, Col. I do like books that depict a city as well as this one does Chicago. I remember thinking when Moira reviewed it that it did seem long-winded and a bit meandering. But the premise is a solid one. Glad you found things to like about it.ReplyDelete
Margot, I couldn't really recommend it, but I'm glad I read it. Chicago was the main character in a lot of respects really.Delete
Too long for me to bite off at this time, which is basically what I said when Moira reviewed it. Ten or fifteen years ago I would have loved the length. Maybe someday. Other than Moira's review, I have not heard of this writer or his books. I can borrow it for free on Prime if I want to give it a shot, but I hate to read really long books on Kindle even more.ReplyDelete
It wasn't an easy book to read and not just because of the length, I had to read other books at the same time. I agree that long books, don't suit the kindle format..... bizarrely it seems to make them even longer!Delete
I was ready to purchase this until I saw the page count. I'll just put it on my wishlist. I'm reading my own tome right now, Lonesome Dove which is at 945 pages. I'm reading it between other books until the story takes off enough for me to set aside everything else. So far so good but it's a lot of set up obviously.ReplyDelete
Wow, 945 - good luck with that one. I have heard of it and might have looked at it a few times, but I didn't realise it was so long.Delete
TDOTD is hard to wholeheartedly recommend. Some books of the same length read longer than others, this is a loooooooooong 636 book!
I'm surprised I'd never heard of this book until relatively recently, presumably because of the reissue. It must have made far fewer waves in the UK in 1973 than it obviously did here.ReplyDelete
John, I can't honestly remember how I heard of it, I think maybe Brash mooted it maybe 12 months or so before they actually re-published it. So I then went a found a copy, I'd probably still be sitting on it if blog friend Moira hadn't read it recently. Even in the US - or at least Amazon.com there don't appear to be many reviews for it. Are you tempted?Delete
Col, I'm with Tracy all the way on this one. I'm avoiding long novels for now though I did read my share of "heavy" books in my youth.ReplyDelete
I wouldn't ever re-read it, it kind of felt double the length! Still glad I did though....Delete