Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review - What I Tell You Three Times Is False - Donald Westlake

Only Donald Westlake could write a deconstructionist novel that contains a discussion on deconstructionism. He not only gets away with this blatant disregard for form but does so in such a casual as to make it look easy. The man is a genius.

If you’re like me, you have (or had) no clue as to what “deconstructionism” is. According to Westlake, it’s the reason Westerns failed. It’s easier if I just quote:

“In each genre there are basic patterns, recurring scenes, stock characters. So with the deconstructionists the story is aware that it’s a story, the characters are aware that they’re characters with a function to fulfill, and the reader or the audience is constantly being reminded that this isn’t real life, this is a pattern, and it’s being presented in a particular way because of various artistic decisions and to further some sort of argument… In a western, the tough but honest foreman is aware that he’s an archetype, that Ward Bond is the basic figure he’s modeled after, and that the purpose he’s been created for is to represent that element of the story and not to live a regular life like a regular human being.”

Whew! That said, in What I Tell You Three Times Is False, written under the pen name of Samuel Holt, Westlake has the audacity to have Charlie Chan, Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes find themselves in a mystery. Or rather these characters come in the form of three actors who have portrayed these famous literary characters to the point that the public identifies one with the other. And the actors have begun to identify themselves with the character, or in some cases are fighting against it. These actors are presented with a classic murder mystery scenario: death in a locked room. They just happen to be on an island to film a public service ad for some charity but a tropical storm blew in just after they landed so they are trapped in a mansion, a kind of closed room in itself due to the inability to go outside in the fierce storm. One of them, or one of a small handful of guests and service people on the island, is the killer. And then another murder happens. And then another. One by one the list pares down as they wait for the storm to lift, hoping to solve the murders before they are next.

What I Tell You Three Times Is False was a total blast to read even though I’ve never read a Charlie Chan or Miss Marple book. Good clean murderous fun for the whole family!

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