Saturday, March 27, 2010


Death of a Writer, by Michael Collins, in worthy of a reading!
by Charlie Leck

If you are not interested in the mystery novel or murder mysteries, read no further. Come back tomorrow for some Sunday morning reading recommendations.

[A Review] This dark novel of murder and serial killings came out in 2006. So, why I am just reviewing it now.

Answer simple = Just read it!

I received the book, among a pile of others and along with a box of wonderful Italian salamis and cheeses, olives and pâté, as a Christmas gift from one of the kids. I’ve slowly worked my way through all the books, finding a few of them nearly as delectable as the Tuscan Pâté that was included among the Italian delicacies. Though Soldier’s Heart, by Elizabeth D. Samet, was the clear prize winner among the books, I was also considerably intrigued by Death of a Writer. I mentioned both of these books briefly in an earlier blog in February. Though I dealt with Samet’s book in some detail, I did not review this highly unusual murder mystery.

Let me warn you first. You don’t want to read Death of a Writer unless you can deal with some rather dark and tragic themes; however, there are plenty of good reasons to read the book that overcome those shadows. First, there are those important questions raised by this complex story: (1) the relationship between the fictional novel and non-fiction and when and how the two meld into one; (2) the question of liberal arts educations in a modern technological world; (3) the both comical and tragic weaknesses of contemporary academia.

Some reviewers have actually called the book both pithy and comical. I didn’t find myself laughing very often, but I was gripped and held spell-bound and found that it was a book difficult to put down. Collins is a good story teller and he weaves an intricate tale within the pages of this book.

A down and out writer, who had dreamed of literary greatness, is trapped on a mediocre college campus teaching English and creative writing. He’s earned his tenure at the school and with that achievement came a sense of great boredom and loss of interest. So, we’re introduced to both a has-been writer and a failure as an instructor. Professor E. Robert Pendleton is an extremely intelligent man. He could have been a good teacher and a successful writer. One of the great questions posed by the book is why he is neither and, instead, a likely murderer.

The tale is intense and the mystery is complex. Is the professor a serial killer who has chronicled one of his killings in an intense and exciting novel that gets short listed as a nominee for the National Book Award? Perhaps! Or, did he have some special and inside knowledge that allowed him to chronicle the killing in a very intimate manner? Is his book fiction or autobiography? If the latter, how can it be nominated for a major fiction award?

Near the beginning of this tale, the professor attempts suicide. He fails, but in the attempt he seemingly disables his brain and communication functions so badly that he cannot answer any of these compelling questions. So, solving the mystery is left to a salty and entirely messed-up police detective and a young and attractive doctoral candidate at the professor’s college.

There’s plenty of Greek tragedy to pass around, so everyone gets a share. Life can be miserable and we’re introduced to plenty of life’s miserable people. We're carried nearly to the book's conclusion before the mystery becomes clear and some readers will congratulate themselves for figuring it out early and others will jump to first one conclusion and then to another (as I did).

I have a standard question I ask myself each time I put a book down, finished with reading it: Was my time well spent and was the reading worth the time spent? I have degrees of answers, like (1) Absolutely; (2) Somewhat; (3) Perhaps; (4) Not Really; and (5) God No! I do give Michael Collins an ABSOLUTELY on his creative and interesting story of murder and so much more.

If you are into this kind of mystery, I recommend it to you.

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