Prior to receiving an advanced copy of this book to read and review, I didn’t know much about it, but that rarely stops me.
This book is one that I probably have hesitated before picking up on my own at a bookstore or library. My best attempt at classification would place it somewhere in the thriller/mystery genre, and since this is one of my favorite genres, I am extraordinarily picky (my personal motto is “life’s too short to read bad books)! That being said, this was a good read, so if I had stumbled upon it on my own I wouldn’t have regretted spending the money (or being placed on the insufferable library hold list).
The story centers around failed-writer-turned-professor Edwin Stith, who has returned to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia for his mother’s wedding to a much younger man. The suspense builds as the wedding nears, but not due to your typical wedding jitters, but rather because someone may have been murdered. The catch? You’re not sure who the victim might be, because the narrator is (drum roll, please): unreliable.
The fact that you can’t trust anything that’s written makes for an interesting read, but I’ll be honest and tell you that it makes the story drag towards the end. Edward begins to contradict himself in ways that don’t feel entirely intentional on the part of the author, to the point where it became unclear who wasn’t clear on how the plot was unfolding. Still, the ending was so unexpected that I’m still thinking about it (and yet not so unexpected that there weren’t clues along the way). The ending also leaves a lot of unanswered questions, which I thought was fine (I don’t mind a little left to the imagination), but some might find frustrating so it bears mentioning. Overall the novel also does a good job of turning some classic mystery tropes on their heads while still maintaining the elements that make the genre unique.
The characters themselves were all horrendously unlikable, but in a way that made them curiously grotesque; you’re forced to keep reading in order to see what they’ll do next, in the same way that people slow down to observe wrecks on the highway. The eerie tone supports this disgust/curiosity dilemma, as does the fact that most of the book’s action takes place over the course of only 2-3 days real time, which adds to the realism.
Now for some miscellaneous stuff: One thing I wasn’t a huge fan of how weirdly personal Stith is as a character; while at first it added to the disturbing tone of the story, it got a bit old and lost some of its shock factor. On the other hand, the writing itself was witty, flowed well, and made this book a quick and easy read. The chapters are also well-divided and consistent in length, something I wouldn’t usually focus on unless it’s executed poorly.
Overall my recommendation is to be on the lookout for Unreliable when it’s released this April. In the meantime, you could check out some of Irby’s other work, such as his novel 7,000 Clams; if you do, drop me a line and let me know what you think!