The Eleventh Letter by Tom Tomaszewski
|The Eleventh Letter by Tom Tomaszewski|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A book with the potential of being a hard-boiled corker of a ghost story, that gets rather too over-egged, unfortunately.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 288||Date: October 2016|
|Publisher: Dodo Ink|
|External links: Author's website|
At the end of the working day, Christopher is looking over the ghosts of his occupancy of some rooms on Harley Street, before moving up the road to different chambers, and pastures new. He's half impelled and half reluctant to revisit a pair of audio cassettes, on which are interviews by him and someone else of a woman called Louise, who was arrested in Italy in the 1980s for the double murder of two close friends, Kate and John. Hardly aware he's being snowed in by a London blizzard and the usual British response to any bad weather, he spontaneously provides shelter to a flame-haired beauty, Kay, who provokes him into playing the tapes. It's an occurrence which changes him much more profoundly than he does others at the therapist's couch. Indeed, the closer he gets to Kay, the closer he gets to the voice of the victim from decades ago. What on earth could be the connection?
This was very much a curate's egg, for me. There certainly is a yolk, but with that comes quite a bit of eggwhite first – and a whole heap of it later. There were too many connections between the author's biography, and the main character's – printer father with a Polish surname, psychological background and therapeutic experience, etc. The telling varies wildly between dense text of the snowy, modern London, and fast-flowing transcript of the cassettes, in which Louise just doesn't ring true in her detail, depth of recall and vocal delivery. Yes, that is a point raised by her interviewers as well, but they also get forced to address the very unlikely elements in the story of the two victims, ranging from Kay convinced there is something dark, not in the woodpile but the goldfish pond, to them having a second choice of honeymoon venue as the very place where John's father in turn disappeared.
Which brings us to another aspect of the book – the introduction of the fourth tangent, that of the young poet that was John's father, and who might or might not be based on a real person. Unfortunately I never felt compelled to google him and check. The side of the book concerning academic research into that writer was just too much, and I think that for a first novel (which this clearly at times reads to be) the eggs of the tapes and investigation, the missing couple's story and the drama of Kay were already enough to be juggling. Add in a smaller, fifth tangent I can only label as 'daddy issues' and you have not so much an egg but a whole soufflé in the making.
And, despite a lot of quality work, the oven door was opened at the midway point, and the whole soufflé fell flat. For one thing, we lose Kay, which is criminal. She provides a genre frisson – the book is never trying to be a willies-giving ghost story, as such, but you do feel her effect at least once. There is also a timeless appeal to the femme (fatale?) arriving and forcing the staid, unmarried Christopher to revisit the past, which of course brings in other genres altogether. If anything is an appropriate flag for this book, however, it is that spectral, mysterious category of 'literary fiction', and this is where the book didn't quite appeal to me. It's clearly playing tricks with narrative, where characters we have no right of hearing from do indeed get given a voice. But the second half not only loses such a vital driving force, it also cheats us, in that some of what we were piecing together earlier in our own 'investigation' proves to have been known way back when. Except… the whole chunk of the book might be a dream, or a revelatory fantasy, or a ghost of a confession from a ghost of a character, or… Oh I have to admit, I really did not feel like analysing everything and trying to solve the problem. The whole second half lost all I enjoyed about the first, and moved the book so far from what I wanted it to be I was almost losing all interest.
For newcomer hands, those of Mr Tomaszewski are certainly brave ones, trying to keep so much in perfect, pictorial motion. But he ends up juggling too many eggs, and the result has some undeniable flavour, but really is quite a spreading mess.
I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.
School of Velocity by Eric Beck Rubin shows too the dangers of looking back – and also has a character that slightly scuppers the read by not being present enough.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Eleventh Letter by Tom Tomaszewski at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Eleventh Letter by Tom Tomaszewski at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.