Another Tuesday, another death in unfathomable circumstances from an author who sought a non-traditional route to press, this time from artist, photographer, and poet Kim Ekemar.
Now, first things first: although this says at the start that it is “published by Bradley & Brougham Publishing House”, a quick online search only divulges books from said source by Kim Ekemar…so I’m calling this self-published because “published Bradley & Brougham” seems to be something Ekemar has just put in his books. There’s nothing — no official statement of copyright, no ISBN, etc — which one typically finds in a traditionally published book, so I conclude it isn’t one. My apologies if this isn’t the case; I have no intention to mislead, which is why I declare it here and leave it to you, dear reader, to investigate or to simply accept it.
Okay, let’s get into it.
Patrice Lafarge, having isolated his three legitimate children and living with only his — please note quotation marks — “retarded” illegitimate 50 year-old son Gaspard as company on his 55-hectare property, decides to invite his immediate family back for his 75th birthday. Immediately prior to this he changes his will, stopping just sort of cackling over how much it will displease his cash-strapped, immoral, and/or avaricious progeny, and chooses to announce the change over dinner on the night of the celebration. To the surprise of literally no-one who has ever read a book, Patrice does not live to the grand old age of 75 years-and-one-day old, as during the night a fire breaks out in his room and, since he is locked inside, by the time the other denizens of the house reach him he has breathed his last and is an ex-plot device, soon to be pushing up daisies.
“How very unforeseen!”
So, whodunnit? Howdunnit? Whydunnit?
Now, look. I’ve never written a book — I tried twice and fully admit they’re both awful, and my intention is that they will remain incomplete well and truly past the heat-death of the universe — and I’m sure there’s more than one way to go about it, but I imagine when you come to plot something out you probably have title cards either in your mind or on paper to help you keep track of things. So, if your plot requires Steve and Elaine to have an argument, you make a note somewhere ‘Steve and Elaine have an argument’ and come back to fill in the details later. It is to be hoped that this argument is necessary as it contains a clue in dialogue or action that will become relevant later on…and then with that piece in place you move onto the next card — say ‘Elaine phones a hit-man’ — and the plot progresses.
Ekemar has done the former here and, in my estimation, simply made them chapter headings without really considering how they add to the plot. So there’s a chapter called ‘The arrival of Henri and Constance at Clos Saint-Jacques’ wherein, well, Henri and Constance arrive at Clos Saint-Jacques…and really it’s just that, with a thundering load of prolix speech and action adding nothing beyond the fact that they have arrived at Clos Saint-Jacques. See also ‘The death of Justine’s mother’, ‘The preparations for Patrice Lafarge’s seventy-fifth birthday’ and — my favourite, by which I mean the point that snapped my wearing patience like a twig — the chapters ‘Henri Lafarge’, ‘Michel Lafarge’ and ‘Constance Lafarge’ which introduce the three adult children of Patrice by saying “yup, they’re hard up and motivated by money” at great, repetitious, verbose, pleonastic, recapitulatory, discursive, wandering length.
I’m not entirely sure how long this novella is, but it’s too long. You could start at chapter 8 (of thirty-three!) and still pick up the details necessary to spot the guilty party — and that’s perhaps its biggest problem: it’s not even well-hidden who’s responsible or the essential scheme they employ. Never mind that it requires someone to do…something so…staggeringly unlikely and put in a huge effort which there’s no reason to assume they would, in spacing out events so they’re long enough to make a novella — and, one presumes, attempt to hide the crucial actions — it manages to skip over just about every single interesting interaction these characters could have. It’s true that their lives overlap at one juncture independent of the locked room death, but you never get a sense of them with and around each other, and no reason to believe any of them are guilty other than it’s called The Patricide and that means killing one’s father (and that in itself is something of a spoiler…).
“How very unfortunate!”
In Ekemar’s defence, he does work in a couple of — admittedly basic — false solutions along the way, all the while very carefully not mentioning the events earlier that clearly point straight at the killer. And yet when you get to the eventual how it’s…well, I don’t think it works, to be honest, and either of the false solutions would probably have been better (though easier to guess). The resolution here reminds me of the sort of thing Edgar Wallace would try out, a convoluted mechanical answer that relies on the properties of an everyday object that I don’t think it possesses. Those of you who remember the complete non-explanation of The Sinister Student (2016) by Kel Richards will find me in a similar position here as there: give me a diagram, or at least explain it better since you’ve opted to do this via prose. If you can’t write an explanation that’s easy to follow, why are you writing this sort of story in the first place?
So it’s too long, insufficiently clear, and rather predictable — not, perhaps, the ringing endorsement one would like to write. At 25% of its length there’s a fun, light story here whose infelicities with things like physics could be forgiven for the Poisoned Chocolates Case-stle reworking of different solutions inside of what appears a very limited set of circumstances. Can any authors reading this — yeah, I know, I’m kidding myself that anyone will listen to my advice, but a man’s gotta try — please abandon this notion that prolixity and complexity are the same thing; the only reason your long-ass plot is difficult to solve is, most of the time, because we’re too fucking bored to care. If a story takes 5,000 words to tell, it’s a 5,000 word story (even then, it’s probably 4,300 words). This is undone by the apparent need for it to be longer as if that makes it better, and at times like these I almost consider setting up editorial services…but then I remember it would mean reading purple prose all day and making people cry, and there’s enough of that in my life as it is.
Oh, yeah, and the final 14% of this book is a preview for another book. Fourteen percent! Given Ekemar’s garrulous style, that’s probably just a scene of someone opening a jar of olives, but it’s an unconscionable proportion of a book to give over to advertising something else. If Bradley & Brougham really is a separate company, I’d love to know why they didn’t talk him out of that…
Aidan @ Mysteries Ahoy!: Ekemar has a pleasing and engaging writing style and does an excellent job of establishing and building up his characters. The characters of each of the children are quite intriguing and he takes the trouble to build them detailed personal lives that will provide motives for murder. I enjoyed learning about each of them and their secrets. In one of my favorite subplots, we see two of the characters’ secret personal lives collide while the siblings are at their family home, unaware of this development. Though I felt the payoff to this moment was a little smaller than I had hoped, I did enjoy those scenes enormously.