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A young man - we never learn his name - owns the bookshop No Alibis specialising in mystery fiction in Belfast. The shop next door belongs to a detective, when he disappears without a trace, people needing his service wander over to the bookworm hoping to find help there. He's indeed successful when it comes to trivial problems like The Case of Mrs. Geary's Leather Trousers or The Case of the Fruit on the Flyover, but then a bigger bite than he can swallow easily presents itself, namely The Case of the Musical Jews. A publisher tells him that his wife hasn't come back from the Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany, where she wanted to interest a German publisher in a book written by a Northern Irish musician. The book hasn't been finished yet, but the piecemeal manuscript arouses interest nevertheless. The author is a Jewess who was the principal violinist in the labour camp at Auschwitz. He had paid the fare for the detective to fly to Frankfurt and look for his wife.
It's understandable that the Jewish musician's tale arouses interest, but not that people disappear because of it (the publisher's wife, the detective) or are murdered (the German publisher as the detective-by-proxy learns a short time later).
So is The Mystery Man a thriller? In German I'd say, "Jein" (pronounced 'yayn') which is a contraction of ja (yes) and nein (no), maybe the word 'yeo' should be added to the English vocab. What speaks for the thriller theory is that there is a case, in the end four people are dead, one of them because he's mistaken for the amateur sleuth, there are suspects, a car chase, a severe beating and at last a Poirot-style dénouement.
Yet, there's too much else besides to earn The Mystery Man the thriller label. A thriller should be action driven, it doesn't have to be shallow - a thought or two doesn't hurt - but if it is, it doesn't matter so much if there's enough suspense. What takes the reader's attention away from the crime action here and gets in the way of suspense is the main protagonist, the detective-by-proxy, the amateur sleuth. The story is told in the first person perspective, the most intimate one which makes the reader see everything with the eyes of the character in question. If we like it or not, we're drawn into the character's mind.
In my opinion the author walks a tight rope line by creating a thoroughly unappealing one. Emotionally crippled by a rigid Catholic upbringing and loveless parents - a beating father and an abuse yelling mother - he's turned into a hypochondriac of the worst kind. There isn't an allergy or a disease on earth he hasn't caught already or will catch in the near future if he doesn't throw in all kinds of medicine from morning to night. I could fill a whole paragraph with his phobias. Several times I felt the urge to shake him and to tell him to stop it, to wake up, to accept that physically nothing is wrong with him, that he's only an utter nutter.
He's only (hardly) bearable because of Alison, the girl working at a store on the opposite side of the road. He's been madly in love with her for ages and finally makes her acquaintance. She's normal, sane, practical, everything he's not and thus a counterweight to him. The Mystery Man is also a coming-of-age story, not a smooth one as you can imagine with a protagonist who when thinking of kissing can only think of the zillions of bacteria transmitted in the act - to say nothing about sexual intercourse.
He hates people, especially nearly all his customers. "...a man came in and asked if I could recommend the new John Grisham and I said, yes, if you're a moron." How he's able to survive financially in the age of online book shops is a miracle what with his idea of customer service even though he knows a trick or two. "The next customer was just looking for directions. He wanted to know where Queen's University was. I said I wasn't sure and sold him a street map. It was only around the corner, but the profit was the difference between burger and steak".
The Mystery Man is also a spoof of detective fiction. Aficionados of the genre will experience a heightened sense of pleasure when recognising the countless references and quotes that are sprinkled throughout the story.
What about the story of the Musical Jews and the Auschwitz connection? How does this serious topic fit into a story thriving with exaggerated mayhem and nonsense? The author somehow succeeds in working it in, his humorous way of writing is the glue holding the different parts of the story together. Auschwitz and humour may sound odd when mentioned in the same sentence, but then Bateman's humour is odd. An American member of a book club ponders in an article on the net "the possibility that Irish readers might find the book funnier and more coherent than American readers. Bateman seems to be writing for an Irish audience (which makes sense, of course) and does little to help readers from elsewhere along. Maybe it partly boils down to a matter of culture."
That goes a bit too far in my opinion, but I agree that there's something special about Irish humour non-Irish readers need getting used to. I'm not American, I don't have problems getting used to it; I've already ordered another book by the author (The Mystery Man is the first in a series featuring the nameless bookselling gumshoe). While reading The Mystery Man the extremely odd book Yeats Is Dead! came to my mind, a novel written by fifteen Irish writers. Bateman could have been one of them.
Some like it odd.
I have recently got into crime and mystery books and spent a while reading the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth books which I really enjoyed. I thought it sensible to have a break between reading too many of the books in a row as I didn't want to get fed up with them, so the next time I went to the library I asked for a recomendation based on the books I liked and the librarian recommended this to me. Although i borrowed it for free, I checked on amazon and you can get it for just over £5 new. Although I am sure lots of people sell books second hand so you could get it cheaper if you wanted.
This book is about double the size of the Agatha Raisin books so requires a littl emore ocncentration, but it is not huge at approx 500 pages. The book is available in paperback.
The cover is quite modern and funky which I found appealing. It is very dark with a simple picture and bold, plain text , with the name of the book, the author and a short and sharp review/ recommendation.
The book tells the story of a man who runs a book shop in Belfast. The book shop is called No Alibis and specialises in crime and mystery. It is next door to a private detective agency which mysteriously goes bust. This leads to customers coming into the book shop and asking for help. The owner (the man with no name throughout the story) starts to help by solving small crimes. This escalates and the story expans to bigger mysteries with murder, and those which span more countries.
The book tells the story with some dry with and subtle humour. At first you are not sure if it is meant to be funny or not, and it portrays the person who the book is about, the book shop owner as quite a sad man whose life revolves around the book shop and he thinks he is better than everyone else. The story is gripping and moves at a nice comfortable pace. You don't have to study each and every sentance to thoroughly to lose understanding. The book is enjoyable, even though it has a serious side, but the humour is quite specific so you sort of have to 'get it' therefore, I wouldn't say this is suitable to everyone. It is the same sort of sense of humour as the Inbetweeners humour, dry a bit silly and very derogatory!
Are you looking for a mystery with many comic twists and a character you aren't sure whether to love or hate? Had enough of the usual kind of crime books full of serious characters and the usual results?
Then search no further, "Mystery Man" is possibly the strangest book I have ever read and I've read plenty. After finishing the book 5 hours ago, the jury is still out. One thing is for certain, it isn't a book I'll forget easily, the story isn't one ill forget at all, and the main character is not one I'll forget ever!
It is the story of an unnamed owner of "No Alibis", a crime fiction bookshop in Belfast. His shop is next door to a detective agency, and when the agency fails to open for business or return it's clients calls, he steps in to help the people of Belfast solve their mysteries - from missing leather trousers, to graffiti artists to missing girlfriends. Everything is going well - he even gets the interest of the beautiful girl who works in the jewellery shop across the road - but she has bigger things in mind, convincing the bookseller to break into the agency next door. In doing so, they get involved in their biggest and most dangerous case yet - "The Case of the Dancing Jews"...
**Crazy, crazy story and characters but lots of fun...***
The narrator of this story is the crazy main character, the unnamed bookseller and by far, his unique voice and personality make this book a strange concoction of outrageously bizarre and really quite funny. From the start, this book really does look like it sets out to take the pee out of other crime fiction and its writers. The bookseller openly tells the reader who he thinks is crap in the world of crime writing (no made up names) and it already had me smirking at his honesty.
That is when the story does become truly odd and people off the street are asking him to solve their crimes. Some of them are silly and uninteresting, but some of the tales that are told to the bookseller just had been laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of it - for example, "The Case of the FA Cup" where a man is trying to find his girlfriend; during their first night in bed together, at the crucial moment, the man grabs his girlfriends (very large) ears and shouts "I've won the FA Cup"....the next morning she is gone.
As you can see, some of the humour is really quite basic, but the way in which it is written did make me chuckle. Most of the humour however, is less obvious and comes directly from the author himself. The bookseller is a tricky narrator to work out. He is someone who is constantly being misinterpreted; he makes comments and people think he is joking but he is not. He is afraid of everything, he won't leave Belfast ever and although he says he loves his girlfriend, he is always making statements that if the murderers go after him he will put Alice in front of him so he has a chance to escape, or if the police think he committed a crime, he will blame Alice for it.
There are also indications that he is not mentally stable, he talks about his medication and there are hints of how he was institutionalised at one point (although from reading his perspective, you wouldn't need these vague comments to see that he is barking!) Adding to the mystery surrounding the author, the bookseller talks about his crazy mother and about his father who used to beat him if he had an erection, a man who thought that sex was bad.
This should all lead up to a slightly unlike able character, but at some points he is so witty and quite thoughtful and he is a character that develops and who grew on me throughout the book.
It is difficult to say anymore without ruining the main story, but suffices to say, this is one of the strangest, and in places, the funniest books I've read for ages. There were times when I felt almost ready to give up on the story altogether because It had gone a little crazy, but I'm glad I persevered. I'd like to meet the author - a man who can create such a strong and strange character is definitely worth meeting!
I am not normally a fan of crime writing, but I saw this was on the Richard and Judy book list I thought it was worth a shot, as when they include a 'genre' book it tends to be a bit more accessible.
I haven't read anything else by this author so didn't know quite what to expect, but it had me chuckling from the first few pages. The plot isn't the most memorable thing about this book (although it is the usual twists and turns and red herrings and working out who the real baddies are...), but the characters are incredibly well rendered and very funny indeed.
The main character is a crime bookshop owner, and the mysteries he solves are the customers of the private investigator who has mysteriously vanished himself. Actually now I come to think of it, he is never named (unless I missed it). 'He' is a massive bundle of neuroses and self loathing, but is very self aware for someone who is so, well... weird! So his observations on his own odd behaviour make this book all the more funny. There is a romance plot buried very deep (since the main character cannot recognise his heroine's Alison's advances with anything other then suspicion).
I am sure if I was a crime reader i would get more out of this book as there must be lots of 'in-jokes' for fans of the genre, but this doesn't detract from my enjoyment.
He's the man with no name and the owner of No Alibi's a mystery bookshop in Belfast. But when a dectective agency next door goes bust, the agency's clients start calling into his shop asking him to solve their cases.
It's not as if there's any danger invovlved. It's an easy way to sell books to his gullible customers and Alison, the beautiful girl in the jewellery shop accross the road, will surely be impressed.
Except she's not - because she can see the bigger picture. And when the break into the shuttered shop next door on a dare, they have there answer. Suddenly they are catapulted along a murder trail which leads them from small-time publishing to modern dance to Nazi secrets and serial killers....
Colin Bateman (or Bateman as he is usually just known as) was a journalist in Ireland before becming a full time writer. His first novel was Divorcing Jack and it won Betty Trask award. He is mostly famed for writing the Murphy's law novels which also became a success on the small screen. Bateman also writes childrens fiction as well as screenplays for film and television.
Our hero, the man with no name is quite happy running his own bookshop, living with his mother and admiring the girl of his dreams from afar until the private dective agency next door shuts down and it's clients turn to our hero for help. The cases are quite simple cases of missing trousers and graffiti at first that is until Daniel Trevor walks into No Alibi's wanting to know the whereabouts of Malcolm Carlyle, the private eye from the shop next door.
It turns out Daniel a publisher, had paid Malcolm to fly to Frankfurt and find his missing wife but never heard off him again. Our hero begins looking into the case and soon has attracted the attention of Alison (the love of his life from the jeweller's over the road). When it looks like he has no leads Alsion , desperate to be his side kick, encourages him to break into the shop next door where they discover the fate of Malcolm Carlyle. Dead for weeks and decorated with magic tree air fresheners to disguise the smell. Our hero and Alison are now suspects and soon eveybody involved in this case, The Case Of The Dancing Jews, starts dropping like flies, no good for a paranoid hyprocondriac book seller. it then becomes a race to solve the case beofre he or Alison com to real harm.
They say 'never judge a book by it's cover' but to honest that is exactly what I did here. The cover was so simple yet eye catching with it's purple and hite writing on a pitch black background I needed to know more. The blurb didn't actually do much for me but the fact it was one of Richard And Judy's Summer Reads (I don't even watch it anymore) and the endorsements on the back cover from various magazines and Jame Nesbitt swayed the decision for me eventhough crime/mystery isn't usually a genre I go for.
From the first page the novel was funny and witty whcih made me want to read more. When our hero gets tangled up in The Case Of The Dancing Jews the book then also gets gripping and I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next.
The main characters in the book are very well written our hero has serious issues he doesn't really like people, has never been out of Belfast, never had a girlfriend and still lives with his over baring mother who seems to hate him. The fact that he's well out of his comfort zone. Despite all this he's witty and sarcastic. Alison on the other hand is probably his polar opposite funny, bright, brave and beautiful she enjoys winding him up and the love story that developes between them although hilarious is also compelling. The other characters in the book are mainly small but yet all play huge parts.
The book also has a serious side,The Case Of The Dancing Jews has a lot to do with Anna Mayerova/Smith's book, which Daniel and his wife were publishing and trying to pitch before she disappeared. Although old and infirm Anna's recount of her days as a prisoner in Auschwitz is quite emotional.
As I've said I don't go in for this genre but I loved trying to figure out who was perpitrator and the big reveal at the end does not disapoint one bit.
I would highly recommend this book and think that I will be reading a few more by bateman in the future.
I bought 2 paperbacks at ASDA for £7 (the other one is Dawn French's Dear Fatty which I have yet to read) on it's own it would have been £3.98 but the r.r.p is £7.99
Also on ciao under same user name
Crime fiction is sort of like the problem child of the book world that the parents like to hide under the stairs. Even the geeky kids, like science fiction and fantasy, get to poke their head out once in a while to breathe some fresh air, or have a film based on them. No, it is crime fiction that is sneered at most for being derivative, bland, simple and forgettable. As a fan of the genre... I agree! There is a lot of rotten crime fiction about. You read a debut novel only to discover yet another author rehashing the same ideas trying to make money off people who don't want to be challenged in anyway. Luckily for those that do want something a little better there is quality about; be it the crime noir of Don Winslow, the classic PI drama of Robert Crais; or perhaps the best of all, the genuinely funny crime capers of Colin Bateman.
We never know our protagonists name. We do know that he is a troubled man who has managed to fun an independent book store specialising in crime fiction whilst being paranoid, a hypochondriac and living with a mother who may or may not exist! The Private Investigator next door has disappeared and a number of people looking for him have popped into the book shop looking for help. Our man is not one to turn away a paying customer and he soon becomes an expert in simple crimes such as finding some missing leather trousers. However, when he embarks on 'The Case of the Dancing Jew' he suddenly becomes out of his depth. As the bodies start to pile up the only consolation for the book shop owner is that he has finally spoken to the girl who works across the road. The same girl he has been stalking for some time is now his sidekick!
Crime is not the hardest thing to write about. You essentially need a murder at the start and have the hero solve it by the end. On the other hand comedy is very hard to write. The written word cannot convey the tone of voice, facial mannerisms or body language that aids many jokes. The novel strips humour bare and forces the author to write something pure and entertaining. In my opinion, Bateman is the best around at doing this and 'Mystery Man' is a prime example. The first 100 pages or so are like a set of short stories that introduce us to the character of the book store owner and they are hilarious. What Bateman then manages to do is take the goodwill and characterisation of the start of the book and lead them seamlessly into a central narrative.
The story, once it gets going, is also excellent as the man-with-no-name continuously gets into scrapes with the love of his life. Although the story is good it is the protagonist that raises the book into the spectrum of great crime fiction. No name is a fantastically funny creation. He is borderline insane and for this reason the internal monologue he provides in the book is great fun. He meets people who think he is perfectly normal, but as the reader we can tell exactly what is going on in his mind. This leads to some very funny moments and one of the best endings to a book that I have read in a long while.
One area of note with 'Mystery Man' is something I discovered after finishing the book. Supposedly the location and characters in the book are based closely on some real places/people. For those living in Northern Ireland and knowing the story they may feel a little confused and hurt that Bateman would pick fun at people. However, I did not know this and tbh I don't think that Bateman meant any harm. He was probably just using real life events as a trigger point for his ideas.
'Mystery Man' is a crime fiction book that rewards lovers of crime fiction. For those people who only dabble in the genre the funny story and classic crime action will be enough to make the book excellent. However, for those immersed in the genre they get a treat that is even more special. No name is obsessed with crime fiction and will refer to famous characters and stories of the genre as a way to solve his mysteries. It is a joy to find yourself recognising a situation and getting even more from the book. I recommend 'Mystery Man' to anybody, crime lover or not. The book is well written, funny, has an excellent structure and a wicked conclusion. Bateman is truly at the top of his game and alongside his last book 'Orpheus Rising' he has produced his best work yet.
Author: Colin Bateman
Price: amazon uk - £4.46
play.com - £4.99
I must admit that I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to books with a 'Richard & Judy book club' sticker. I have no idea where this prejudice came from, but I'm assuming it is because the kind of books they normally choose are not really my cup of tea. However, every now and again there are exceptions and one of those is the hilarious 'Mystery Man' by Bateman.
The main reason this book grabbed my attention was because of the amusing tagline - "Murder, Mayhem & Damn Sexy Trousers", it immediately made me smile and had me intrigued - after reading the blurb I was sure this would be something I would like...
...and I was right. I've not read many books that have actually made me laugh out loud, but a couple of times (especially whilst on public transport) I had to cover my mouth to stop myself chuckling and looking like a lunatic.
The book is set in Belfast and our nameless main character is the proud owner of the crime fiction bookshop 'No Alibis'. He reluctantly takes over the cases of his detective neighbour when the agency closes down and the investigator disappears. Seeing an obvious link (why else would there be a crime bookshop next door to a detective agency?) between the two businesses, the detective's clients start bombarding our hapless bookseller with all the cases which the private eye didn't solve. This leads to many interesting and humourous outings for the strange group of characters, which includes our hero, the feisty Alison (from the jewellery store over the road, whom he had been admiring from afar), and Jeff, the witless shop assistant who works in the bookshop part-time. I have to say that the funniest parts of the story tend to involve the protagonist and Jeff.
A vast majority of the story takes place in the shop, which is favourable for our fearful bookseller, as he likes to solve each case with as little effort as possible - preferably browsing the Internet for clues whilst eating Twix bars, and drinking Starbuck's coffee (anything that keeps him from leaving his haven or driving too far from the area where he lives!). Our hero, if you can call him that, is rather quirky and has serious issues with everything; he has a long list of phobias, illnesses and allergies for which he takes all manner of pills and potions - this guy could give Monk a real run for his money in the odd-detective stakes.
Mystery Man, which can be purchased from Amazon for £3.99, affectionately pokes fun at the crime fiction genre and the book world in general, and has a lot of genuinely hilarious moments. I really enjoyed this book and have recommended it to almost everyone I know, so a lot of my colleagues are now reading it too. I'm hoping there will be a sequel or two in the future.
*I've also published this review under my own name on Waterstones.com*