Death by Fiction Paperback – Aug 30 2010
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book zips back and forth among various characters' viewpoints--I wasn't sure how I would experience this approach, but as it turned out, each segment created just enough suspense to keep the pages turning (fast!) without segueing into frustration at being left hanging, so to speak, to switch to a new thread. Any hint of said frustration quickly evaporated as I became riveted once again by the first few lines of the next character's viewpoint. Though initially the multiple-viewpoint format struck me as ambitious, I found that the pacing left nothing to be desired and that in fact the chosen format seemed to exactly fit the information we receive and the way we receive it. Indeed, this capacity to view the different characters' stories from their own (third-person) points of view contributed to the vivid characterization that was so much of what made this book shine.
I myself cringed at all the violence in the story, but 1) I suspect I exhibit considerably more sensitivity to such things than the average reader, 2) I tend to avoid things with violence in them in general (see #1), and 3) perhaps most importantly as far as this review, the violence was not gratuitous or at all irrelevant to the story--on the contrary, I understand why it was there even as I winced reading it. The story simply did not shy away from the action, conflict, or ruthlessness of some of its characters.
Overall Death by Fiction struck me as a remarkably compelling story, filled with clever twists that culminated in the final chapters with a brilliant and meticulous integration of threads and questions that had emerged from the first page. I highly recommend it, not only to those who love the thrill of mystery but also to anyone simply seeking a gripping tale. What a ride!
Ah, lurid. First (and almost omnipresent out there in the world), there is a kind of lurid fiction Lister does not write. That is Dumb Lurid. It is loaded with sex, violence and frenzied sound and fury signifying very little and going more or less nowhere. Don't get me wrong. Dumb Lurid can be great fun. It is the stuff of countless pulp magazines and "B" movies. It can be quite addicting. The great author Yukio Mishima, in moments of relaxing from the writing of Nobel-worthy literature, found time to star in several Dumb Lurid detective films in 1960's Japan. The only thing that would have made that concept
more appealing, would be if Mishima had starred in the kind of film Ashley Lister might write. Because Lister has performed a feat of literary alchemy. He has taken the elements of a piece of glorious trash fiction, and transformed them into something new.
Welcome to Smart Lurid, courtesy of A.L.
Death By Fiction (an irresistible title, you have to admit) is brim-full of the above-mentioned sex, violence, and frenzied sound and fury. But these things are not aimless, and in fact all contribute to a plot that is deliciously complex, carried out by characters that both embrace and defy the stereotypes of the mystery genre. You may think, by the time you've been introduced to the octogenarian woman sleuth, the borderline (or not-so-borderline) psychotic loser, the thug with aspirations toward dubious greatness, the femme fatale, and the cop who makes up the rules as he goes along, that you're on easy, familiar ground. You're quite wrong.
For one thing, each of these characters is also a writer. By definition, writers are obsessive, driven, given to a tenuous grip on reality, and only marginally sane. Mystery writers (particularly unpublished ones, as all of the key characters in the book are except the murder victim) might well be the worst of the lot. They do, after all, obsess about violent death, the sensuality of murder, the complex means by which to commit the perfect crime...and so does the circle of writers who become enmeshed in the internecine plot of Death By Fiction. Along the way, Lister offers countless treats for other writers, skewering every aspect of their unique mania. This in itself would make the book priceless, but there is more.
Dancing along a razor's edge that from a lesser writer could easily become parody, the characters in Death By Fiction will twist and tug at your emotions in unexpected ways. With moments of pathos and rage and frustration...and even transient, elusive echoes of possible happiness.
Amid all this, an undercurrent of wickedly black humor pervades the book. From
incisive erudition to uproarious crudity. There is strong erotic content in the book, and the sex is intense. More than just graphic...shall we say unique? Among many other things, you will learn uses for a cell phone you never thought possible.
Lister also stays true to that gem of writer's advice from Chekov: "If you describe a gun on a mantelpiece in Scene One, it must be fired by the final scene". Nothing is wasted. Small elements of the story are fitted with a watchmaker's precision into the narrative, and they all mesh precisely together in the end. As to that end, I am not going to spoil your pleasure by revealing it, except to say that Lister provides one last moment of pure alchemy: he makes the conclusion harsh and satisfying, realistic and edged with hopeful fantasy, all at once.
When you reach the end of Death By Fiction, you may well be tempted, like a demented but happy reader of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, to flip right back to the beginning and start again, just to savor all of the touches you may have missed the first time.
Lurid was never like this. But it should have been.