|Oct/Nov 2002 Book Reviews|
Weidenfeld & Nicholson (August 2002) 360 pages
ISBN: 1 86159195 0
Frank Cassidy is a sick man, and in many ways this is a sick book. Just about everyone in it is mentally disordered in some way, even the psychologist, who is obsessed with proving his own theory in any way he can.
Frank has been psychoanalysed; he was once confined in a mental institution; and he has been subjected to ECT; but he is also the victim of circumstances and events which add to his mental confusion. And since Frank tells this story, the reader is disorientated too.
Frank is an unpleasant character and it is hard to empathize with him as he tries to unravel the mystery of his Uncle's supposed murder. Nor did I find anything amusing about the sordid unpleasantness of his life, although the publicity handout for this book describes it as "Brilliantly funny and unsettling".
It is unsettling all right. And the mystery is there, largely due to Frank's repressed and burned-out memories. In summary: As far as Frank knows his parents died in a fire on their farm when he was a child. He remembers a burning barn; fear; his Uncle's presence; and a man called Chester Green, whose name he calls out in recurrent nightmares but who was dead at the time of the fire. Now, suddenly, Frank's Uncle has been found dead with a bullet in his head and a gun in his hand; a man with Chester Green's distinctive tattoo is suspected of his murder but is in a coma in hospital after trying to hang himself; and Frank or his cousin, Norman, or Norman's wife, are also under suspicion and may well have done the deed.
If you can put up with Frank and the unpleasant ways in which he wilfully alienates his wife, his step-son, his sister-in-law and everyone else, then the confusion and puzzlement may keep you reading until the end. But you may find the denouement as disappointing and over-elaborate as I did, and the book's title gives you a hefty clue right from the start.
Not my cup of poison, as you can tell, but mystery addicts may feel differently about it all.