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Readable and original
on 4 June 2014
In an American university, a professor is working late. Finally, he makes his way to his car in the darkness. Someone steps out from behind a tree and shoots him dead at point blank range, then drives away philosophising to himself that the end justifies the means. Detective Jason Colbert and his partner Mark Davis are assigned to investigate the case. Colbert's many successes have been because he is willing to bend the rules in order to get results - like the murderer, he believes that the end justifies the means.
The action moves to the Dallas Museum of Art where rich, beautiful widow Geneva Caldwell is chairing a fund-raising event. She meets two handsome, rich men - Brock and Grady, who soon become rivals for her affections. They discuss art and the philosophy of Plato, by way of small talk. Dick Karlson and his wife join the discussion and they all agree to meet regularly to continue their discussions. There, Herb and Doris Goodman join them, together with a much younger man, a student called Stuart Langford. Further murders lead Colbert to the philosophy club, where he meets the dying Doris and together, they solve the mystery...
I'm a fan of both murder mysteries and philosophy, so this book seemed right up my street. I must say that it was never boring and I was never tempted to skim passages or miss out chunks. It is true that the kindle version is imperfect, with page number and the author's name appearing at random points in the text, but I did not find it all that distracting. In fact, it is sadly true that many self-published books are pretty badly edited, so that one gets used to it!
I'm not sure whether the things that I did not like were because the author needs to develop his writing skills or simply because he was writing in an alien American style. The story moved along at a good pace, with plenty of dialogue and plenty of action. I liked the idea of a philosophy club and of linking the murders to the philosophers being discussed; it is quite original - I haven't seen a book like that before. It also offered an opportunity to give the book real depth and to examine both the ideas and the characters of the main protagonists in the book. However, the opportunity was largely missed. We got a rather irrelevant-seeming passage on what each famous philosopher thought, in a way that would excite nobody and awaken nobody to the sheer mental and imaginative stimulus that studying philosophy can bring. This may be because the author was aware that he needed to keep up the pace of the book and so had to skim ideas that needed more illumination and lively discussion.
Although the central idea is quite original, the choice of characters and social setting lets it down. It is set (like so many American stories) among the rich and beautiful. To Brits, it seems a bit improbable that people with that kind of background would bother to get together for an amateurish philosophy club, rather like a British book club in a suburban semi. However, it is possible that we do not understand American culture, where people are pretty sociable and have more of a taste for getting together with others at every opportunity. Also, these were cultured and highly educated people who perhaps wanted to meet others who could discuss interesting topics on their level. it is just a pity the discussions are not better written. The characters are meant to be pretty intelligent yet, to anyone with any knowledge at all of philosophy, their comments are pretty banal.
The book reminded me of an episode of 'Murder She Wrote.' The depth and quality of dialogue were about the same and there was even an older lady helping with the police investigation in a slightly unlikely way. It was an entertaining and undemanding read, the sort of thing one could read on holiday when one does not want to have to think too hard. There wasn't much subtlety or wit. The idea had a lot of potential which could have been developed by a better writer into something really good. Perhaps that better writer is David S Alkek with more experience of writing?