An Exaggerated Murder

New Year's Sale 2021


An Exaggerated Murder by Josh CookThe great lie of detective fiction is that the world makes sense: there are no coincidences; criminal motives are simple and decipherable; every clue is a step along the path to resolution. In the real world, Sherlock Holmes would be useless. Human motivations are messy and contradictory, changeable, and frequently self-destructive. Clues can as easily point in one direction as another, open to interpretation, contamination, falsification, not to mention the simple impossibility of picking the relevant clues from the vast array of irrelevant *stuff* cluttering any place where a crime might take place. In detective fiction, it takes only a few simple lines to connect the dots—you just need to draw them. This is the fantasy that mysteries and police procedurals universally indulge. In the real world, there are millions of dots, and most of them have nothing to do with the picture.

Cook doesn't dispense with this fantasy entirely; Trike Augustine is a detective with plenty of Holmesian victories under his belt. But in An Exaggerated Murder, Cook explores what happens when the complications of real-world irrationality encroach on the comfortable order of detective fiction. And in doing so, he demonstrates exactly why detective and procedural fiction are so enticing in the first place—how lovely it would be to live in a world where criminals can unfailingly be identified, and understood, and indicted, so long as you've a brilliant enough drug addict working the case! But what happens when the clues are an indecipherable mess, the villain seems to have no rational motive, and every part of the investigation is hampered by inconvenient coincidences?

You end up with one profoundly frustrated detective is what happens—one who has to face the world exactly as the rest of us have to face it all the time: in a perpetual state of overwhelmed confusion.

This is a hilariously weird and philosophical detective novel, as much interested in the methods we use for thinking our way through problems as in the myriad ways those methods can be stymied or ill-conceived from the start. Equal parts satisfying and defiantly frustrating, true to genre and genre-breaking, this nose-thumbing noir is absolutely fun from start to finish.