Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review: The Existential Detective Agency


Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy is a detective novel on the surface and an existential essay at its heart. For those looking for something akin to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Edgar Allen Poe, you won’t find it in this collection. The entire work is made of three loosely connected novellas: “City of Glass,” “Ghosts, and “The Locked Room.” Each piece begins with an ordinary man who is suddenly thrust into a world of dark alleys and sleepless nights which may just be figments of his imagination. Auster’s characters aren’t experienced with the deceit they encounter but they welcome it and immerse themselves in their new dark personas. If my description sounds noir-ish and pulpy, it’s because Auster wants it to be that way. The protagonists in all three stories see themselves as real Sam Spades but the worlds they encounter expand beyond reality and infiltrate the protagonists’ minds.

Quinn, our detective in “City of Glass,” is actually a mystery writer who is mistaken for an actual private investigator. Bored with the state of his life, Quinn decides to perpetuate his false identity finding himself deep inside a possible murder plot. Quinn attempts to rationalize everything he’s seen, but despite his understanding of crime he cannot escape the torment his mind created of the situation. Quinn’s investigation takes him beyond the real world and into the dark shadows of conspiracies and delusions.

“Ghosts” and “The Locked Room” play out in similar fashions, but each has their own original style and twist on the human psyche; half the fun in reading the trilogy is watching as characters reappear in other stories. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an original thriller, but don’t be mislead by the title; though the stories take place in New York, there aren’t many quaint anecdotes about the small little corners of our favorite city.

Additional read: Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli created a comic book adaptation for “City of Glass” which is rather well done. Unless you are into comics, however, you probably don’t have to read this.

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