Archive for June, 2021

Taylor: Death Comes for the Deconstructionist

June 17, 2021

Death Comes for the Deconstructionist
Daniel Taylor
(Cascade, 2014)
198 p.

First the Archbishop, and now this.

It’s an odd sort of murder mystery that Daniel Taylor has written. There’s a dead body, for sure — that of Richard Pratt, a fast-talking literature professor who falls from a hotel balcony with a Moby Dick-themed letter opener in his chest — and there is a detective — Jon Mote, a laconic, psychologically unstable and unmotivated former graduate student in Pratt’s department who gets hired as a PI by the dead man’s wife when the police investigation goes cold — and a Watson character — Jon’s mentally disabled sister Judy, who tags along with him as he meanders from interview to interview — and a constellation of possible suspects, as there must be. So far, so good.

But what is odd is how it plays out. Our detective isn’t really that interested in solving the mystery; he goes about it in fits and starts, out of a sense of obligation more than anything. He takes a lot of breaks. (I was envious!) Most of the time he’s more preoccupied with his own psychological, and, perhaps, spiritual health than in figuring out whodunit. There’s more than a dash of noir in the novel’s tone, as Jon drops wry and self-depreciating remarks the way Sam Spade dropped cigarette butts. I generally prefer my murder mystery detectives to have some personality, but here it’s more that a personality happens to have a mystery. I liked that about it.

Given that the detective is a former graduate student, and the stiff is a professor, there’s a good deal of dark academy humour in the book, and to my mind this is the best thing about it. As a campus comedy, it works very well. Pratt is a deconstructionist, which means, effectively, that he pours acid on things, and avoids pouring acid on his own self only insofar as he can maintain a mercurial, fleet-footed dance around his subject matter, one step ahead of his path of destruction. Taylor is really very good at satirizing this sort of thing — an easy target, maybe, but not one that I’ve often seen given the treatment, and it’s really funny.

The least successful aspect of the book, for me, was the sidekick character Judy. Conveying verbal mannerisms in print is no easy task, and I was never sure how she should sound. Perhaps I’m heartless, but she was for me an awkward presence that simply got on my nerves after a while.

As all mystery novels do, Death Comes for the Deconstructionist comes to some kind of conclusion about the death of its victim. And, as almost all mystery novels do, it fizzled in the process. It is because of this fizzling that my attitude towards the genre hovers somewhere between mild interest and active dislike, so maybe don’t listen to me. If you like this sort of book, you’ll probably like the ending better than I did. But I enjoyed getting there.