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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


A Mysterious Affair of Style

Gilbert Adair

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To purchase A Mysterious Affair of Style

Title: A Mysterious Affair of Style
Author: Gilbert Adair
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007
Length: 287 pages
Availability: A Mysterious Affair of Style - US
A Mysterious Affair of Style - UK
A Mysterious Affair of Style - Canada
Ein stilvoller Mord in Elstree - Deutschland
  • The second volume in the Evadne Mount Trilogy

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Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyable mystery and pastiche; delightful writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A 4/2/2008 Thomas Scholz
The Guardian B- 10/11/2007 Carrie O'Grady
The Independent B 27/11/2007 Barry Forshaw
NZZ B- 8/5/2008 Thomas Hermann
The Observer A 4/11/2007 Will Buckley
Sunday Times . 18/11/2007 Trevor Lewis
TLS B 2/11/2007 Matthew Beaumont

  Review Consensus:

  Agree it's well-written, but quite a few wonder what the point of it is

  From the Reviews:
  • "Gilbert Adair zeigt hier erneut, wie unterhaltsam postmoderne Literatur sein kann. (...) Seiner Mischung aus Pastiche und postmoderner Brechung mischt Adair fast beiläufig Anspielungen auf die Filmwelt der Nachkriegszeit unter. (...) (D)ieser Roman ist gleich zweifach gelungen -- postmodern und kriminalistisch." - Thomas Scholz, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It's fun, but a little baffling. Adair has taken a genre that was artificial in the first place (...) and piled it high with new layers of artificiality, in the form of in-jokes, clever asides about the nature of criticism and knowing winks at the reader. (...) Clever moments aside, there are long passages when A Mysterious Affair of Style is simply dull. (...) Adair can craft a satisfying puzzle, and his love of language is always a joy" - Carrie O'Grady, The Guardian

  • "Adair clearly yearns for crime fiction in which the spilling of entrails was done tastefully offstage, and pleasure was simply to be found in the solving of an ingenious puzzle. (...) The characterisations here are as outrageously over-the-top as ever, and Adair's skill in reinvigorating the tropes of the Golden Age affords light-hearted fun. But there is a problem. Adair so unerringly points up the silliness and contrivance of this kind of vintage narrative that the novel finally functions only on the level of a rather cold-eyed detonation of the genre." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

  • "Trotz Erfolgsrezept stellt sich das beim ersten Krimi empfundene Vergnügen nur teilweise ein. (...) Zusammengehalten wird der Roman durch ein gekonntes Spiel mit Täuschung und Illusion." - Thomas Hermann, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Adair uses Christie-style wooden characters and adds layer upon layer of his own polish. (...) This is a joyfully frivolous and playful homage." - Will Buckley, The Observer

  • "Adair's knowing time capsule might ultimately prove to be no more than a diverting game of metafictional Cluedo, but the author pulls it off with brio and the silkiest of touches." - Trevor Lewis, Sunday Times

  • "In spite of its deft appropriation of the generic conventions of Golden Age detective fiction, it is also rather laborious (.....) Even if it implicitly ironizes readers' objections throughout, the novel cannot fully escape the suspicion that it achieves its tone of levity all too heavy-handedly." - Matthew Beaumont, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Mysterious Affair of Style reunites successful mystery writer Evadne Mount (her latest, in an Adairian nod to Georges Perec, titled: Death: A User's Manual) and retired Scotland Yard Chief-Inspector Eustace Trubshawe a decade after they had been involved in The Act of Roger Murgatroyd -- and, well, as Trubshawe notes: "Things happen around Evadne Mount".
       The setting here is just-post-war London, and while the novel is again a pastiche/homage -- as already suggested by the title, echoing Agatha Christie's first (The Mysterious Affair at Styles) -- it's not just a chip off the old Golden Age crime-story but rather also pokes fun at Alfred Hitchcock and his films. There is a full-fledged Hitchcock stand-in, too: Alastair Farjeon (popularly called: 'Farje'), director of films such as:

Hocus-Focus, which takes place entirely inside a jam-packed hotel lift which has stalled between two floors. The whole film, mind you ! And not only is a murder committed in the lift itself but the camera never stops panning and tracking in and around that cramped space. Only Farje would have attempted such a folly.
       Although Farjeon is famous for always making a small cameo-appearance in his films (doing so in Hocus-Focus in an actual cameo (brooch)), he is conspicuous here mostly for his (physical) absence: early on comes the tragic news that he perished, along with a young actress starring in his newest film, in a fire at his house. The news hits Cora Rutherford -- close friend of Evadne's, and also present at ffolkes Manor for the events of The Act of Roger Murgatroyd -- particularly hard, as she has a part in the new Farjeon film, with which she hopes to breathe new life into her acting career, and she now faces a more uncertain professional future.
       Cora's concerns are short-lived: the show -- or at least the filming -- must go on, with Farjeon's First Assistant on set, Rex Hanway, taking over directorial duties on If Ever They Find Me Dead -- Farjeon having left written instructions to that effect, should anything happen to him. (Meanwhile, René Clair is shooting an Agatha Christie on a nearby stage -- "What's it called again ? Ten Little Whatnots ?" (originally released in the UK as Ten Little Indians, but better-known as: And Then There Were None).)
       Evadne and Trubshawe are invited to come watch some of the filming, but when they visit the studio they witness something else as well: murder -- in plain view. The crime proves rather baffling -- even for the mystery writer and the old Scotland Yard man. Only a small circle -- including Evadne and Trubshawe -- were privy to the changed circumstances that allowed the murderer to commit the deed at that point and in this way, but they all would seem to lack any obvious motive. Yet the five prime suspects (a group to which Evadne and Trubshawe do not belong) did all, it turns out, have very good reason to want Farjeon dead. But, unlike now, they all had strong alibis that confirm they couldn't have been involved in his death. Still, it's hard to imagine the crimes are not connected. But what -- and whose -- is the motive for the film-set killing ?
       The novel takes more than a hundred pages to get to the actual murder, but much of the fun both before and after is found in the characters and circumstances -- including Evadne and Trubshawe. These old hands are quite willing to speak their (sharp) minds, but have also been puttering about rather all by their old lonesomes in their advancing age and now are quite pleased to have crossed paths again -- and are somewhat invigorated by that, and these circumstances. Aside from them, there's the first-time director, who started off flailing about so badly that it didn't seem the film could possibly me finished but then found his direction; Cora, who boasts of how much more significant than originally planned her role in the film had become; Farjeon's widow, quietly ever-present on set; and French film critic Philippe Françaix -- a very thinly veiled version of François Truffaut, who famously wrote a book based on his conversations with Hitchcock.
       Of course, Adair isn't merely writing a Golden Age-type mystery, but commenting on the form (and that specific manifestation); his writer-character, Evadne, allows him to articulate some of his observations and ideas, as he both shows and tells here. So, for example, he can have Evadne suggest:
It's my theory, you see, that the tension, the real tension, the real suspense, of a whodunit -- more specifically, of the last few pages of a whodunit -- has much less to do with, let's say, the revelation of the murderer's identity, or the disentangling of his motive, or anything the novelist herself has contrived, than with the growing apprehension in the reader's own mind that, after all the time and energy he has invested in the book, the ending might turn out to be, yet again, an anticlimactic letdown. In other words, what generates the tension you describe is the reader's fear not that the detective will fail -- he knows that's never going to happen -- but that the author will fail.
       Evadne also insists -- pertinently to both the case and a pastiche-novel --:
If there's one thing I've learned in my thirty years as a much-acclaimed author, it's that the style of an artist, an authentic artist, can never be successfully imitated by someone else. Never, never, never. Many have tried, all have failed.
       Finding the culprit -- and trying to figure out just exactly what happened -- eventually leads Evadne and Trubshawe down slightly different paths, as the one follows her authorial instincts and the other tries to rely on tried and true investigative principles. They even make a friendly -- if very, very high stakes -- wager on who can solve the case first.
       Of course, it ultimately comes down to a semi-dramatic (and quite staged) denouement, a gathering-up-all-the-(apparent)-suspects in one room, where Evadne forces the murderer's hand. It's not a whodunnit that the reader could have solved themselves, but the resolution(s) are quite satisfying, as A Mysterious Affair of Style works simply as mystery too -- the added fun coming with Adair's playing off of Christie, Hitchcock, and more.
       Evadne admits early on that her recent novel, Death: A User's Manual, isn't entirely a success -- because:
it's too clever for its own good. It's what you might call clever-clever, which sounds twice as clever as clever itself but is actually only half.
       Adair largely avoids that trap in A Mysterious Affair of Style, as he doesn't get too clever for his (and its) own good. The novel is enjoyably clever and playful, without trying to do too much. So, yes, there isn't that much to it either, as Adair doesn't get too ambitious -- but that still makes for an entertaining novel, enhanced also by Adair's own wonderful style. The man could write -- and he could also plot a pretty decent old-style mystery-novel. (And he could poke effective fun at will, and does so at soft targets Agatha Christie, Hitchcock, and quite a few other here along the way.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 January 2019

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A Mysterious Affair of Style: Reviews: Gilbert Adair Other books by Gilbert Adair under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Gilbert Adair (1944-2011) wrote several novels, as well as several works of non-fiction. He also translated Georges Perec's A Void, for which he won the Scott Moncrieff Prize.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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