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Mystery Man - Bateman
Member Name: MALU
Mystery Man - Bateman
Date: 25/10/11, updated on 26/10/11 (92 review reads)
Advantages: odd and funny
Disadvantages: The humour doesn't appeal to everyone.
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.
Summary: a kind of thriller set in Belfast