There is a storm brewing among literary critics about spoiling endings of books in reviews.
I’m staunchly in the camp of reviewers who think it is unconscionable to reveal in the review of a book the denouement of its narrative. People in the other camp believe – pompously in my opinion – that it is their prerogative to reveal the resolution of any story they are charged with reviewing for the simple reason that it exists.
With Dead Anyway, by Chris Knopf, I’m conflicted over telling you anything about this eccentric work for fear of giving away the plot, which, in a peculiar way, conscripts us as silent characters in the story.
Knopf is not a mainstream novelist; he’s different, resolutely insouciant. And Dead Anyway is a preposterous story beginning with a woman and her husband being shot in the head while sitting at home on their sofa. She dies; he appears to be in the same condition. Except he lived, unbeknownst to the shooter and his white-collar bosses, and rehabilitates over a year’s time. Then, in consort with his sister, who is a physician and was able to keep his recovery a secret, he conspires to take revenge.
I’ve already told too much. But nobody dislikes a revenge story, and this is a beaut. Knopf is clever, meticulous and patient. You can just imagine the Post-it notes on every surface of his office, keeping track of the twists and turns and subterfuges necessary for a dead man to operate in this post-Sept. 11 Information Age without anyone discovering his identity. It is an impossibility, really, but there is a whit of probability, and Knopf meticulously pulls it off with a legion of advisers he credits in his acknowledgements – including experts in forensic accounting, computer hacking, insurance, law, financing, banking, math, bar culture, hospitality and precious metals, along with a note to the FBI that reads “this is all in the service of crime fiction. Emphasis on fiction.” How he gets it done is the real mystery of this mystery.
Knopf’s two protagonists are compelling – the putatively dead Arthur Cathcart, and Natsumi, a flighty but sagacious blackjack dealer Cathcart meets, trusts and teams up with to attempt an honest, justifiable revenge sting on the people and powers who summarily executed him and his wife. You’ll love these characters: Cathcart for his good heart and titanic try, and Natsumi because of her pragmatic, ditzy likeness to Marisa Tomei’s Mona Lisa in the film “My Cousin Vinny.” Theyare good people fighting a just cause, and we can easily overlook some of the serendipitous linking of developments leading inexorably to the aftereffect.
Dead Anyway is the quintessential whodunit. There is no violence beyond the two bloodless shots in the first chapter, so those few of you who grimaced to me about the previous “Murder Ink” reviews can rest easy and not give up reading this genre just yet. In fact, I’ll be reviewing a couple of humorous crime fiction books in the next two months by Sicilian Andrea Camilleri and Florida’s most clever Carl Hiaason. Then the fainthearted can go back to the dysfunctional-family fiction before we ramp up to the wicked Gretchen Lowell in the brilliant trilogy by Chelsea Cain.
Reach local author Jeff Mannix at JeffMannix.com.