I was intrigued by Professor John Sutherland’s recommendation of ‘The Appearance of Murder’ by John Nightingale in his books of the year round-up in The Times last Christmas in which he described it as “the most teasingly pleasurable crime mystery novel I’ve come across this year”. It tells the story of crime fiction author David Knight who is trying to finish his latest novel but gets caught up in a mystery from his own past. A young woman named Perdita unexpectedly turns up at his house with an old photograph of five Cambridge undergraduates including David himself and a musician named Mark Ryland who died in mysterious circumstances. She believes that one of the five men in the picture is her father but doesn’t know which one. However, following an accident during a hockey game twenty-five years ago, David’s memory of that particular period of his life is decidedly sketchy, which somewhat restricts his ability to unravel the mystery of what happened to his university contemporaries all those years ago.
Just as the title suggests that nothing is quite as it seems, ‘The Appearance of Murder’ has a very different atmosphere from a lot of crime fiction being published at the moment in that it is less reliant on shock value and detailed forensic analysis whilst still dishing up plenty of unexpected twists and turns. In terms of style, it is more of a mystery than a thriller with an eccentric cast of characters and a very British comic sense of humour throughout. Nightingale’s exploration of the nature of appearance versus reality is intricately constructed and as a result, the plot is deliberately ambiguous with several complex strands. I must confess it took me a while to properly grasp who all the characters are and keep track of their various surreal back stories but the final result is a cleverly plotted, suspenseful and genuinely original mystery which is unlike anything else I’ve read from the genre.
‘The Appearance of Murder’ is published by Spider Monkey Books and is out in paperback this week with a sequel due next year. Many thanks to John Nightingale for sending me a review copy.