In the early 1940s, a Scottish professor of mathematics devises a mathematical definition of the murder mystery story and writes seven provocative stories as proof of his theory. He publishes a journal article regarding his ideas and then self-publishes his seven stories in a small volume, entitled The White Murders.
Decades later, the owner of a small publisher stumbles across one of the copies of The White Murders and decides he wants to reissue the book. The publisher sends an editor in search of the author, whom the editor finally locates on a small, isolated island in the Mediterranean. He has been living in seclusion for decades. She establishes contact via post and makes arrangements to visit him to make preparations for the new volume of his stories. As they work their way through the seven stories, inconsistencies begin to appear, and along with the questions regarding why the professor has been essentially in hiding, it soon becomes clear that the explanations regarding the writing of The White Murders lie at the end of a very complex equation.
In this impressive debut mystery, Alex Pavesi, a software engineer with a PhD in mathematics, pays homage to the classic age of mystery and detective fiction with a series of stories that could very well have been published in the 1930s or 40s. Connecting these narratives is the mystery involving their author and the suspicious circumstances around their creation. The details unfold with the reading and discussion of each story by the writer and editor in alternating chapters.
There is a wide range of characters, as each narrative varies in setting. All of them are interesting and compelling, if not always likeable (a common trope in mystery fiction). The two main characters, the secluded writer and editor, are nicely drawn and each has their secrets and motivations, which are slowly revealed as the novel progresses. Pavesi also expounds and explains the mathematical theory underpinning the creation of the stories by way of the character of the former mathematics professor turned writer, which is an interesting concept.
More than a simple anthology or straightforward mystery novel, The Eighth Detective is an enjoyable read with multiple puzzles and solutions. In many ways, this mystery novel is a similar read to Anthony Horowitz’s 2017 Magpie Murders, which also revolves around an editor investigating a manuscript, under decidedly different circumstances, but allows readers to read not only the mystery involving the not-yet published book, but the manuscript as well.
For more insights about the creation of this book, read the author's interview.