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Death of a Writer

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For Robert Pendleton, a professor clinging to tenure and living in the shambles of his once-bright literary career, death seems to be the only remaining option. But his suicide attempt fails, halted at the last moment by the intervention of Adi Wiltshire, a graduate student battling her own demons of failure and thwarted ambition. During Pendleton's long convalescence, Adi For Robert Pendleton, a professor clinging to tenure and living in the shambles of his once-bright literary career, death seems to be the only remaining option. But his suicide attempt fails, halted at the last moment by the intervention of Adi Wiltshire, a graduate student battling her own demons of failure and thwarted ambition. During Pendleton's long convalescence, Adi discovers a novel hidden in his basement: a brilliant, semi-autobiographical story with a gruesome child-murder at its core. The publication of Scream causes a storm of publicity: a whirlwind into which Adi, Horowitz and the still-incapacitated Pendleton are thrust. The novel is treated as an existential masterpiece and looks set to bring its author the success he's always sought - when, ironically, he is no longer in a condition to appreciate it - until questions begin to be asked about its content: in particular about the uncanny resemblance between Pendleton's fictional crime and a real-life, unresolved local murder. Enter Jon Ryder, a world-weary detective who could have walked off the pages of a police thriller, and the hunt for the murderer is on.


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For Robert Pendleton, a professor clinging to tenure and living in the shambles of his once-bright literary career, death seems to be the only remaining option. But his suicide attempt fails, halted at the last moment by the intervention of Adi Wiltshire, a graduate student battling her own demons of failure and thwarted ambition. During Pendleton's long convalescence, Adi For Robert Pendleton, a professor clinging to tenure and living in the shambles of his once-bright literary career, death seems to be the only remaining option. But his suicide attempt fails, halted at the last moment by the intervention of Adi Wiltshire, a graduate student battling her own demons of failure and thwarted ambition. During Pendleton's long convalescence, Adi discovers a novel hidden in his basement: a brilliant, semi-autobiographical story with a gruesome child-murder at its core. The publication of Scream causes a storm of publicity: a whirlwind into which Adi, Horowitz and the still-incapacitated Pendleton are thrust. The novel is treated as an existential masterpiece and looks set to bring its author the success he's always sought - when, ironically, he is no longer in a condition to appreciate it - until questions begin to be asked about its content: in particular about the uncanny resemblance between Pendleton's fictional crime and a real-life, unresolved local murder. Enter Jon Ryder, a world-weary detective who could have walked off the pages of a police thriller, and the hunt for the murderer is on.

30 review for Death of a Writer

  1. 5 out of 5

    karen

    i liked this. there was a time while i was reading it when i liked it very much. i dunno - i dont read a lot of mysteries/procedural genre books (thats what teevee is for) so i dont know if this is typical. i found it slow at the start, then i got caught up in the momentum and i was really enjoying it, and then by the end my enjoyment had tapered off back into a more tepid liking of it. verdict: high three.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

    This is an odd book. I feel that in terms of broad appeal, there would be too much musing on academia for the average murder mystery fan, and for those looking for insight into writing or academia, it's too much of an 'airplane reading' novel. Which is not to say the author didn't succeed in writing well enough of both things, it's just an odd pairing. Perhaps this is beach reading for professors? While the book dips into the work of academia, it doesn't offer any real insight. The characters are This is an odd book. I feel that in terms of broad appeal, there would be too much musing on academia for the average murder mystery fan, and for those looking for insight into writing or academia, it's too much of an 'airplane reading' novel. Which is not to say the author didn't succeed in writing well enough of both things, it's just an odd pairing. Perhaps this is beach reading for professors? While the book dips into the work of academia, it doesn't offer any real insight. The characters are well, if broadly drawn. (Of course there's a hot grad student that every man in the tale wants, right?) I think perhaps the hardboiled detective is a bit heavy handed given the rest of the novel is not written in a particularly pulp or noir style, but given the final events in the story, this characterization seems necessary to have it be believable. While it's not generally my preferred genre, this is a satisfyingly twisty whodunnit, written, for once, by someone who can write well and paint a vivid scene. I knew who the guilty party was about half way through, but that may be more a function of having consumed so many stories with twists that I can recognize the markers being laid out over the course of the story. The set up is done well without tipping the author's hand too much. The best, and I think most accurate description I can think of for this novel is - Very well written novelized Law and Order episode. Which is not a condemnation. Law and Order has been on for 100 years with good reason. It's an appealing format, and has fun, believable twists and turns. So if that sounds fun to you, you'll probably enjoy this.

  3. 4 out of 5

    kp

    "Literary mystery" is an oft-used term, but Collins's novel fits the bill precisely. A disaffected college professor attempts suicide, an event that leads to the discovery of mis masterpiece, a nihilistic and gruesome story of the murder of a teenaged girl. A graduate student becomes involved in the controversy surrounding the book, a controversy which ultimately touches on a real murder, as yet unsolved. Collins renders well the arid desperation of ambition and the ways in which literature both "Literary mystery" is an oft-used term, but Collins's novel fits the bill precisely. A disaffected college professor attempts suicide, an event that leads to the discovery of mis masterpiece, a nihilistic and gruesome story of the murder of a teenaged girl. A graduate student becomes involved in the controversy surrounding the book, a controversy which ultimately touches on a real murder, as yet unsolved. Collins renders well the arid desperation of ambition and the ways in which literature both reflects and contributes to a culture gone mad with pain. The book was thrilling and intelligent, its charecters, especially Adi, the graduate student driven to despair by her commitment to academe, and Ryder, the sorrowful cop with a sordid past who re-opens the investigation into an unsolved murder. As in an earlier novel, The Keepers of Truth, Collins renders with a clear eye the moral bankruptcy at the heart of American life, where class divisions are firmer than ever and the public imagination swings from one monstrosity to another.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    The novel concerns itself not just with the investigation of a crime, but also with issues of authorship/appropriation, responsibility, and the ways in which one person influences the life of another, sometimes directly and profoundly, sometimes secretly and subtly. The book begins with E. Robert Pendleton, a failure. He is a professor of English at small Bannockburn College. He does not like his job, or anything else about his lot in life. He has had occasional breakdowns, and this Homecoming w The novel concerns itself not just with the investigation of a crime, but also with issues of authorship/appropriation, responsibility, and the ways in which one person influences the life of another, sometimes directly and profoundly, sometimes secretly and subtly. The book begins with E. Robert Pendleton, a failure. He is a professor of English at small Bannockburn College. He does not like his job, or anything else about his lot in life. He has had occasional breakdowns, and this Homecoming weekend seems destined to bring him to another crisis as his rival, the best-selling Allen Horowitz, is coming to Bannockburn to speak. Pendleton decides to kill himself. But Pendleton fails even to take his own life, as Adi Wiltshire (a comely grad student with no thesis in sight) and campus photographer Henry James Wright arrive in time to "save" him; Pendleton lives, but his stroke-ravaged mind is reduced to relearning the alphabet. Adi steps in as caretaker. Stashed in Pendleton's basement she discovers unopened boxes of a novel, Scream, that he published through a vanity press. It seems to have been sitting in his basement for 10 years. Adi realizes that Scream is Pendleton's masterpiece, a griping account of existential crisis. The book is largely autobiographical, telling the story of an unhappy professor at a small Midwestern college. Adi and Horowitz get Scream republished, the celebrity author's attention substantially raising the profile of the work. Scream's protagonist kills a young girl and dismembers her body; he dies when his car crashes in a storm. Adi sees parallels between the book and the case of Amber Jewell, a local girl whose dismembered corpse was found in a field. In her thesis, she plans to explore how Pendleton found inspiration in real events. Adi's research reveals that Pendleton's book was published before Amber's body was found. The possibility that Pendleton could have committed the murder stuns Adi, who burns the incriminating invoice that pinpoints Scream's original publication date. But a tape is mailed to the police; the distorted voice hints that Pendleton should be a suspect in the Jewell case. Investigator Jon Ryder--with his own baggage of a missing wife and a daughter who accuses him of murder--comes to seek the truth. The revived interest in Amber's death leads to more deaths and buried secrets. And there are questions of art: Will Scream win the National Book Award? Can a book that relies on the author's own experiences be called fiction? When does inspiration cross into autobiography? There's a messiness to the book that I appreciated. Some questions are answered, others are not. People come tantalizingly close to the truth only to turn aside. Information is withheld, or misinterpreted, or lost. Quotes "Fiction requires a more rigorous discipline than all other art ... The stakes are so much higher, the audience is that much more intimate with language than any other medium of expression. You must get things just right. There have been child prodigies in music and mathematics, because there are elemental laws of accord and discord, but where are the child prodigies of literature? Are there any? That's a question." "Don't slight commercial success so easily. It's not so easy to sell out--that's the pejorative popular term, right? What I want to know is, how come people like you are so seduced by the notion of an artistic relativism that elevates a lack of rigor and so-called open-endedness to an art form? Is artistic obtuseness so seductive because everything becomes relative? Is its appeal is relative mediocrity? "Have you ever considered this might be the first epoch where there are no geniuses, that all modern art is a sham? Can one truly compare Andy Warhol's Campbell soup cans to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and if so, why not elevate the Manson family murders to pop art, to the level of an Andy Warhol, or vice versa?"

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey Salvatore

    Reading this book has been a great challenge for me; Michael Collins' vocabulary pushed me off the edge, making me Google the definition of at least three new words per page. I started off reading this book thinking 'I'm never going to reach the end' but now that I've completed it I feel a sense of achievement. I don't think I'll be reading it again any time in the near future though as my brain could barely keep up with the vast amounts of new language thrown my way this time. The book has made Reading this book has been a great challenge for me; Michael Collins' vocabulary pushed me off the edge, making me Google the definition of at least three new words per page. I started off reading this book thinking 'I'm never going to reach the end' but now that I've completed it I feel a sense of achievement. I don't think I'll be reading it again any time in the near future though as my brain could barely keep up with the vast amounts of new language thrown my way this time. The book has made me realise that I need to expand my lexical choices, using words such as: venerable, blithe and foppish. Yes, believe it or not they are legitimate words, I promise you. I did find the very beginning of this book to be solely focused on the academic side of things, which became monotonous over mere three chapters. I enjoyed the speed in which the story unraveled as the book could have become tedious, but Collins moves from one thing to another quite rapidly. I became very interested in the whole 'whodunnit' theme Collins had, until he started including more and more plot twists. Unfortunately by the end of this book I did find it to be quite confusing as it seemed to include lots of different sub-plots which got puzzling as I struggled to remember the names of each character and who they were in relation to who. The academic side of the story still hovered in the background, being mixed in with the thrill of the mystery, which I thought to be a very strange combination. I was gripped with this novel at first but I found myself rushing in the end just to finish the book, not because the plot was poor, but because I was finding it complicated and I was getting in a muddle. I would recommend Collins' tale for anyone who enjoys murder mystery novels as the main focus of the story is whodunnit, rather than - what I was expecting it to be - the power of words.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lorin Cary

    Collins provides a marvelous run through the world of academia and schools of literary criticism in a mystery filled with plot twists that pull you forward. It isn't immediately clear who the protagonist is, and I'll leave that up to you to find out. At the center of the story is a murder and a novel which seems to place it's author in the shoes of the murderer. So is it fiction or autobiography? A graduate student unable to find a thesis topic, a detective in a failing marriage, a professor who Collins provides a marvelous run through the world of academia and schools of literary criticism in a mystery filled with plot twists that pull you forward. It isn't immediately clear who the protagonist is, and I'll leave that up to you to find out. At the center of the story is a murder and a novel which seems to place it's author in the shoes of the murderer. So is it fiction or autobiography? A graduate student unable to find a thesis topic, a detective in a failing marriage, a professor who hates what he's doing, a Vietnam vet now a perpetual student and photographer, and a best selling author filled with hot air---what a cast. And what a read!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Clark

    This book had great potential. It wanted to do more, but I think it leaned too far. It was certainly in some ways a nice critique of academia (which feels good to see), but it was also a rehashing and a trashing, so that it didn't have the useful bit to be particularly useful. I also figured out way ahead who the killer was, and was quite annoyed by the female protagonist. The book was trying to be postmodern, but, it just ended up leaving me cold. I didn't really care for or about any of the ch This book had great potential. It wanted to do more, but I think it leaned too far. It was certainly in some ways a nice critique of academia (which feels good to see), but it was also a rehashing and a trashing, so that it didn't have the useful bit to be particularly useful. I also figured out way ahead who the killer was, and was quite annoyed by the female protagonist. The book was trying to be postmodern, but, it just ended up leaving me cold. I didn't really care for or about any of the characters, except maybe Bob Pendleton, who needlessly and disappointingly, suffered. Hmmm. I don't feel the need to read anymore by this author.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    i guess i forgot to add this to my books when i signed up with goodreads. i read this a couple of years back now. i just read karen's review, and actually, its so accurate, i guess all i can say is "ditto." this is not collins' best book, but i just love his writing. i recommend him all the time to people, since most haven't heard of him. he's one of those gritty, real, marrow-of-the-human-psyche writers. and i mean that in all the best ways. he reminds me of another writer who should be far mor i guess i forgot to add this to my books when i signed up with goodreads. i read this a couple of years back now. i just read karen's review, and actually, its so accurate, i guess all i can say is "ditto." this is not collins' best book, but i just love his writing. i recommend him all the time to people, since most haven't heard of him. he's one of those gritty, real, marrow-of-the-human-psyche writers. and i mean that in all the best ways. he reminds me of another writer who should be far more well-known than he is: daniel woodrell.

  9. 4 out of 5

    A

    A genuinely enjoyable and hilarious novel. It sat on my shelf for years, because I enjoy Michael Collins' work but assumed that this novel would either be a boring, Woody Allen-esque plot with the older professor falling in love with his graduate student, that it would be a pretentious meditation on Art, or that it would be a satire of academic life similar to Nabokov's Pnin or Waugh's Decline and Fall. Instead, it turned out to be a marvelous satire of all of these genres. When it twists into a A genuinely enjoyable and hilarious novel. It sat on my shelf for years, because I enjoy Michael Collins' work but assumed that this novel would either be a boring, Woody Allen-esque plot with the older professor falling in love with his graduate student, that it would be a pretentious meditation on Art, or that it would be a satire of academic life similar to Nabokov's Pnin or Waugh's Decline and Fall. Instead, it turned out to be a marvelous satire of all of these genres. When it twists into a crime procedural, Collins plays around with the tropes of mystery novels in a humorous and intelligent way, with the character of Ryder an extension of the vigilante, wild-card detective with a messy home life. I think that the novel could, at times, almost read like a book-version of cheap satires that simply reference tropes in an obvious way. However, Collins engages with these tropes in an intelligent way through the complex characters. He shows a sharp instinct not only for the absurdities of academia (the constant references to the masturbatory, self-referential, and useless industry of criticism of criticism of criticism of literary works will resonate with anyone who studied English in university). Horowitz's glamorous front of the best-selling novelist who transitioned from glitterati author to unapologetic sellout Personality, we come to learn, conceals his own awareness of the vapidity of his work. What I worried about with the grad student - that she'd be the cliche beautiful, intelligent (but not threateningly so) love interest - only applied at a superficial level. Instead, Collins draws out the complex character of Adi to show a woman who, feeling that she has nothing else to offer, plays to the type out of a sense of self-preservation. At times the satire comes off as straight-up caustic, with some jokes laugh-out-loud funny but very dark, and the genuineness of the main characters tempers it. The plot wasn't suspenseful in the way that a mystery novel would be, and there are points in the book when it did seem to drag. However, I found that the novel's construction was really well-done: the book transitions seamlessly from a Decline and Fall-type insight into an elitist institution that reproduces privilege with the illusion of providing a liberal education to a satire of a mystery novel to a genuine exploration of the sad lives of those who live outside the Bannockburn bubble. I found that the scenes with the detective were hilarious in that they were so obviously referencing the outrageous tropes of the genre (the exaggerated stories of Ryder's unprofessional behaviour following his wife's disappearance is a funny play on the cliche of the police officer with an axe to grind, for example), and the intersection between this plotline and the absurd academic world provides some of the funnier moments in the novel. More broadly, though, what I enjoyed about the incorporation of the mystery element is that it allows for a stark contrast between the academic world and the world outside. At the beginning of the novel, we see the superficially ridiculous world of the academics. When it's discovered that Pendleton's novel is based on an actual murder that occurred decades before this novel takes place, though, the low-income rural community surrounding the university makes the "competition for tenure" world, with its vanity publishing houses and useless research projects, all the more insulated and absurd. The lives of those affected by the murder of a local girl from a troubled, impoverished rural family in a community left behind by the modern economy are written about in such an empathetic way that Collins takes what could have been just a superficial "academia's ridiculous" novel and transforms it into a satire juxtaposed with the sad reality of the world for whom Bannockburn is out of reach. This adds complexity to the satire while also making the novel more interesting to read because the world is built beyond just the insular university. And, just as the empathy with which Collins has written the academic characters adds depth to that satirical plotline, the dark humour and irony threaded throughout the novel prevents the sadness of the murder plotline from devolving into trite sentimentalism. The book was well-constructed, hilarious, and very enjoyable. A very petty annoyance was a style issue - I don't know if this was an editing thing or what, but there are so many misplaced modifiers that at times it's difficult to understand or follow along. I wish the editors had used more Oxford commas or reigned in the random sentences that are structured unintelligibly.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Judith

    A strange story, strangely told. Robert Pendleton, professor at a midwestern college, is bitter about his fate as a writer. He is hosting a visiting writer, Allen Horowitz, who had been a fellow student when they were young. The visitor is wildly successful, while Pendleton's works have faded into oblivion. Because Pendleton has lately been phoning in his lectures, creating dissatisfaction among his students and the faculty, his boss insists that he bring along a graduate student to help greet the A strange story, strangely told. Robert Pendleton, professor at a midwestern college, is bitter about his fate as a writer. He is hosting a visiting writer, Allen Horowitz, who had been a fellow student when they were young. The visitor is wildly successful, while Pendleton's works have faded into oblivion. Because Pendleton has lately been phoning in his lectures, creating dissatisfaction among his students and the faculty, his boss insists that he bring along a graduate student to help greet the visitor. The grad student is Adi Wiltshire. A fan of Horowitz's, she has been working on her thesis for a long time and has a reputation for providing extra benefits to visiting professors. Pendleton has more than a little difficulty with his hosting job. Ultimately, he loses it, and lands in the hospital, where Adi visits. In her wanderings around his house, Adi discovers a book by Pendleton that she had not seen before. She reads it and is enthralled. At the heart of the book is the murder of a child. The circumstances of the crime are similar to a real murder committed some years before. She works with Horowitz to get the book republished and it is a sensation. But a sensation with a dark secret. The narration is omniscient, shifting from person to person. It's difficult knowing who is the protagonist. Although he is out of it for much of the book, I kept pulling for the professor, whom I didn't even particularly like. I didn't much like any of the characters, which is why I kept wondering if I even liked the book. It's ingenious and it did keep me reading.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anna Richland

    At 40 pages in, already annoyed that Adi's character was doing the hard work of being BOTH a Madonna and a whore for the story, I was pretty sure I'd figured this out and that what remained of the next 260-odd pages would be style, red herrings, and more style. I checked the back. I was correct. Furthermore, the ending dipped in and out of omniscient point of view ("Investigators confirmed the alarming and spiraling sequence of events … Investigators reconstructing the crime scene … The investig At 40 pages in, already annoyed that Adi's character was doing the hard work of being BOTH a Madonna and a whore for the story, I was pretty sure I'd figured this out and that what remained of the next 260-odd pages would be style, red herrings, and more style. I checked the back. I was correct. Furthermore, the ending dipped in and out of omniscient point of view ("Investigators confirmed the alarming and spiraling sequence of events … Investigators reconstructing the crime scene … The investigation was abandoned when …" etc). I'm sure this book will work for many people, but I prefer deeper points of view and less of this: "Handpicked by the Chair, Adi was, at second glance, an amorous, big-breasted, longtime grad student, a true lover of literature who was known to have tit-fucked no fewer than two Pulitzer Prize recipients." (p 11). I know that this is nominally from the odious POV of Pendleton, but there's nothing that Adi herself expresses in the next 30 pages to really counter that -- the author doesn't set up any contrast for that description, not really. So I'm left to conclude that that's how the reader is supposed to see her, how the author wants us to see her -- thankfully I'm not a completist, thus a DNF.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David

    A really quite strange book, it doesn't seem to know if it's a study of academic life and literary criticism, or a generic crime potboiler, or a study of criticism of generic crime potboilers. Starting off following the titular Professor Pendleton, a frustrated, failing academic, it's almost Stoner-esque, until you realise he's the architect of his own problems. Then comes the suicide attempt, and the discovery of his brilliantly-written but never properly published Scream while he's incapacitat A really quite strange book, it doesn't seem to know if it's a study of academic life and literary criticism, or a generic crime potboiler, or a study of criticism of generic crime potboilers. Starting off following the titular Professor Pendleton, a frustrated, failing academic, it's almost Stoner-esque, until you realise he's the architect of his own problems. Then comes the suicide attempt, and the discovery of his brilliantly-written but never properly published Scream while he's incapacitated, followed by the discovery of the possibility that it might be an autobiographical account of his murder of a local girl. It's really quite beautifully depicted, but the crime aspect of the book becomes more of a distraction, and there's some pretty poor leaps in logic that I feel the likes of James Lee Burke wouldn't make. Enjoyable, but not quite a resounding success.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Monica Ramsey

    Not bad. The story didn't go at all where I expected it to, which was exciting. It was dense, at times, but I believe that contributed to its overall criticism of academia, so that message was strongly delivered. The characters really kept the story going, and I was anxious to see how this investigation of whether or not professor and writer Pendleton killed a young girl a decade before would change those characters. It's also got some good creepy parts. Not bad. The story didn't go at all where I expected it to, which was exciting. It was dense, at times, but I believe that contributed to its overall criticism of academia, so that message was strongly delivered. The characters really kept the story going, and I was anxious to see how this investigation of whether or not professor and writer Pendleton killed a young girl a decade before would change those characters. It's also got some good creepy parts.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cliff

    A mystery wrapped up in a novel about academia with the title character in a coma for much of the book. A detective with a bad home life ( do any of them actually lead a normal life?) tasked with solving a cold case, then becoming fixated with it even when told to stop. I'm sure the book has much more merit than many I read. Did I enjoy it? Not really but I felt it merited finishing. A mystery wrapped up in a novel about academia with the title character in a coma for much of the book. A detective with a bad home life ( do any of them actually lead a normal life?) tasked with solving a cold case, then becoming fixated with it even when told to stop. I'm sure the book has much more merit than many I read. Did I enjoy it? Not really but I felt it merited finishing.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Deepak Saxena

    It's a difficult work to read and rate. Not because it being some kind of literary masterpiece, but due to a mixing of genres. It tries to be an existential and crime story at the same time - and in the process slightly frustrating the readers of both geners. Still, a good read for those who are interested in the world of academia, which is the setting of the story in this work. It's a difficult work to read and rate. Not because it being some kind of literary masterpiece, but due to a mixing of genres. It tries to be an existential and crime story at the same time - and in the process slightly frustrating the readers of both geners. Still, a good read for those who are interested in the world of academia, which is the setting of the story in this work.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Danm

    You lost me, bro. Started out amazing, then faded due to different POVs and lack of engagement.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    Well written, but the plot is lacking. Gotta love a man who drops Stephen King's name as often as possible. Well written, but the plot is lacking. Gotta love a man who drops Stephen King's name as often as possible.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lieselot Mauroo

    I have mixed emotions about this one. The first 60 or so pages bored me to tears, the rest was better and I suppose it was okay, but nothing about it really blew me away.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nefty123

    This book dwelled too much in psychology. The plot by itself was interesting. But the psychology made all the characters act and sound the same.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

    This novel starts so slowly I gave up. I was surprised that it wasn't anything I would enjoy. This novel starts so slowly I gave up. I was surprised that it wasn't anything I would enjoy.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Susy

    Wow! What a great experience! Finding a new author with a superb book is something that occurs a few times these days of a million titles in store. The novel is a mystery, yes, but it’s also an investigation of the big subject of literature as something valuable to MAN. Strike lit, put fiction instead, and be politically correct and use “human being”. The characters discuss Nietzsche’s Superman, academia life peopled by failed intellectuals, coffee table books and popular best-selling fiction, t Wow! What a great experience! Finding a new author with a superb book is something that occurs a few times these days of a million titles in store. The novel is a mystery, yes, but it’s also an investigation of the big subject of literature as something valuable to MAN. Strike lit, put fiction instead, and be politically correct and use “human being”. The characters discuss Nietzsche’s Superman, academia life peopled by failed intellectuals, coffee table books and popular best-selling fiction, the struggle of genius, and all these musings flow easily and naturally. The first half of the book centres on Pendleton, a failed novelist about to lose his hold on a teaching career in tatters who suffers an enormous depression. He tries to take his life and fails again, and an older grad student –also a failure- helps him in his sorry life as almost a vegetable in a wheelchair. That’s when she finds a great novel hidden in his house, a bitter and brilliant tale about a failed novelist such as Pendleton that ends with the murder of a young girl by the protagonist. Success enters into his terrible life but upon investigation the grad student has a suspicion that the murder was real and that Pendleton actually did it. So the second half centres on a failed burnt out cop with his own demons to conquer, trying to solve the real murder. Even Pendleton’s nemesis, a successful novelist, is a failure at heart, knowing he just pampers to the big public tastes to get bigger applause and more money. This is a remarkable novel, full of great characters and subtle satire, with humour and food for thought in each page. And yes, I discovered the murderer by the middle of the book but the twist at the end was a surprise. Merged review: Wow! What a great experience! Finding a new author with a superb book is something that occurs a few times these days of a million titles in store. The novel is a mystery, yes, but it’s also an investigation of the big subject of literature as something valuable to MAN. Strike lit, put fiction instead, and be politically correct and use “human being”. The characters discuss Nietzsche’s Superman, academia life peopled by failed intellectuals, coffee table books and popular best-selling fiction, the struggle of genius, and all these musings flow easily and naturally. The first half of the book centres on Pendleton, a failed novelist about to lose his hold on a teaching career in tatters who suffers an enormous depression. He tries to take his life and fails again, and an older grad student –also a failure- helps him in his sorry life as almost a vegetable in a wheelchair. That’s when she finds a great novel hidden in his house, a bitter and brilliant tale about a failed novelist such as Pendleton that ends with the murder of a young girl by the protagonist. Success enters into his terrible life but upon investigation the grad student has a suspicion that the murder was real and that Pendleton actually did it. So the second half centres on a failed burnt out cop with his own demons to conquer, trying to solve the real murder. Even Pendleton’s nemesis, a successful novelist, is a failure at heart, knowing he just pampers to the big public tastes to get bigger applause and more money. This is a remarkable novel, full of great characters and subtle satire, with humour and food for thought in each page. And yes, I discovered the murderer by the middle of the book but the twist at the end was a surprise.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Simon Mcleish

    Originally published on my blog here. Campus novels are not uncommon; novels about writers even less so. But Michael Collins has here produced an excellent novel, by incorporating a striking crime thriller theme into this self-consciously literary setting. The title character is a literature professor at Bannockburn College, a once-famous writer whose punk-like attitude helped bring about a decline in his career to the point where a meeting with an old friend who is still a best-selling author dri Originally published on my blog here. Campus novels are not uncommon; novels about writers even less so. But Michael Collins has here produced an excellent novel, by incorporating a striking crime thriller theme into this self-consciously literary setting. The title character is a literature professor at Bannockburn College, a once-famous writer whose punk-like attitude helped bring about a decline in his career to the point where a meeting with an old friend who is still a best-selling author drives him to a suicide attempt. While he remains near death, a postgraduate student from the English department discovers a lost novel in his home, published decades ago by a now defunct vanity press and apparently so thoroughly forgotten that it no longer appears on Pendleton's CV. Intrigued, Abi begins to read it, and is impressed by what turns out to be a first person narrative daringly written from the point of view of a child killer. She eventually manages to get Scream published, and it becomes a best-seller as well as restoring Pendleton's literary reputation. But then a few people begin to realise that the crime depicted bears a close resemblance to a real cold case from local area. Considered as a crime thriller, The Secret Life of E. Robert Pendleton moves at a glacially slow pace. It will, however, retain the interest of a genre fan because of the idea behind the plot. The extra space is used to include elements from literary fiction, particularly to develop the characterisation of Abi. The themes of the novel seem to be the way that bad choices come back to haunt us, and the relationship between fiction and reality - does Pendleton's depiction of the crime in Scream make him the criminal, someone who spoke to the criminal, or someone with a imagination unfortunately too close to that of the killer? A touch of patience from thriller fans will be well rewarded. There are some fantasic scenes, such as the interrogation of another author and academic by the police, where he deconstructs the questions as though they are texts relating to an academic study of the philosophy of crime genre fiction. All the main characters in The Secret Life are failures of one sort or another, at least in their own eyes, and are generally not at all reconciled to being so. There is the perennial student, the once fêted writer who cannot maintain his early promise, the writer who pursued commercial success and despises himself for it, the policeman unsatisfied by his second marriage, not to mention the people originally suspected of the murder, none of whom have done anything with their lives. They are not particularly likeable, either, which is something which usually makes it harder for me to enjoy a book; but this time, it did not, because of the interest of the idea and the complexity of the characters (who do at least have sympathetic traits as well). The title is one of the poorest parts of The Secret Life of E. Robert Pendleton, being long, awkward, and unmemorable, as well as saying little about the themes of the novel. It has also been published as Death of a Writer, which is misleading and not very good either. A couple of minutes' thought suggested A Murder in Fiction, but I think that with only a modicum of effort, this too could be bettered.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Edwin Lang

    I enjoyed Michael Collins' The Secret Life of E. Robert Pendleton very much and recommend it. I found it to be a good and hard to put down read. There was one point when the tension created by the story was so high that I wished that two of the characters -- Adi Wiltshire and Henry Wright -- would break it by initiating a night of inappropriate torrid sex. It didn't happen. And although there were many memorable characters, as their characters were revealed as the story progressed keeping them re I enjoyed Michael Collins' The Secret Life of E. Robert Pendleton very much and recommend it. I found it to be a good and hard to put down read. There was one point when the tension created by the story was so high that I wished that two of the characters -- Adi Wiltshire and Henry Wright -- would break it by initiating a night of inappropriate torrid sex. It didn't happen. And although there were many memorable characters, as their characters were revealed as the story progressed keeping them realistic and believable, for me Adi Wiltshire emerged as a flawed but salvagable heroine of sorts, almost like a second story line tangential to Pendleton's Secret Life. I found that Collins takes his craft seriously, that is writes a readable and believable story and takes pains to ensure it holds together and ensures there are no (or not many) loose ends. The novel included an epilogue and while it was good and satisfying it struck me as almost unnecessary as the story had been that well developed. Jon Ryder has a large role as the investigating officer and he comes across as ruthless, cunning, and somewhat cruel. It was hard to take sometimes: but to anyone reading the newspapers, well ... Overall Collins created an interesting universe. I don't think any of his characters ever laughed or exhibited any kind of joy. It seemed no accident that Collins described Jon's sexual relationship with his wife Gail as fundamentally joyless. This morning while walking my dog in the dark I wondered if this joylesness is the new normal. I wondered if I would have been able to read this book as the slightly depressed and baffled teen and young adult that I was then, and decided that yes I would have and would have come out of the experience somewhat enlightened. My ink is hardly dry and CBC Radio 2 is playing Gary Jules' It's a Mad World. Sigh. I think for many the answer may be yes. Or as I heard on CBC last year a song by a young songwriter 'I want to see something beautiful.   Edwin

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (JC-S)

    ‘.. some secrets are better revealed in the afterlife.’ Secrets, illusions and delusions: this is a novel that touches on each. Robert Pendleton, his hopes for a dazzling literary career are fading fast as is the security of his tenure at Bannockburn College. In his despair, Pendleton attempts suicide but fails when Adi Wiltshire, a student, intervenes. Ms Wiltshire discovers a novel hidden in Pendleton’s basement which includes a gruesome child murder with an apparent resemblance to a real unsol ‘.. some secrets are better revealed in the afterlife.’ Secrets, illusions and delusions: this is a novel that touches on each. Robert Pendleton, his hopes for a dazzling literary career are fading fast as is the security of his tenure at Bannockburn College. In his despair, Pendleton attempts suicide but fails when Adi Wiltshire, a student, intervenes. Ms Wiltshire discovers a novel hidden in Pendleton’s basement which includes a gruesome child murder with an apparent resemblance to a real unsolved crime. Did Pendleton commit the real murder? How else could he have some of the details? Uncovering the facts is one aspect of this mystery, but there are other characters with interesting and intersecting pasts as well. Could one of them be the murderer? This novel is rich in detail and allusion. From the portrayal of Pendleton, the sleuthing of Adi Wiltshire and the relationships between Pendleton, Wiltshire and the other key characters this is a story to be immersed in. Why do people do what they do? Not even the pathetic image of Pendleton’s rabbit with its slipper fetish diverted me from that question. I am certain that I will want to reread this book at some stage. In my rush to see how the novel concluded I know I didn’t pause long enough to soak up the full impact of Mr Collin’s writing. This is a novel that can be read as a good mystery but it also deserves to be read as good literature. I need to read more of Mr Collins’s novels.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Frank Parker

    Death of a Writer (aka The Secret Life of E Robert Pendleton) by Michael Collins It is not often that I want to read a book more than once. This is something of an exception because, on arriving at the end I felt a compulsion to return to the beginning in the belief that knowing the ending would make some of the events recounted in the early chapters easier to understand. This is an extremely complex novel. A cold case murder investigation takes place alongside a sometimes highly satirical depicti Death of a Writer (aka The Secret Life of E Robert Pendleton) by Michael Collins It is not often that I want to read a book more than once. This is something of an exception because, on arriving at the end I felt a compulsion to return to the beginning in the belief that knowing the ending would make some of the events recounted in the early chapters easier to understand. This is an extremely complex novel. A cold case murder investigation takes place alongside a sometimes highly satirical depiction of life in the English Department of a small American university in the mid-1980s. This was a period when deconstructionism was all the rage and Collins pulls no punches in his exposure of the pretension and self delusion that often underlies such fads. The death of a writer is not the only death that takes place whilst the cold case is under re-examination. Nor is E Robert Pendleton the only character whose secret life is exposed. The problem, for me, was that not one of these characters resembled anyone I have ever met or hope to meet; they just weren’t believable either because they existed as stereotypes or because aspects of their behaviour were simply not credible. Not withstanding any of that, I was kept reading by a desire to know what twist Collins had in store in the next chapter. There are so many twists, turns and red-herrings that I wanted to get to the end as eagerly as one wants to find one’s way out of a complex maze.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Walter Van praag

    A good friend passed me this book to read. Must say it captivated me straight away and I enjoyed reading the first quarter. Then the plot got a little confusing and a little slow. I persevered and ploughed through what i felt was a little 'over literary', with references and vocabulary that had me stumped on multiple occasions. This book will definitely suit the better read and the more academically inclined audiences. In the end the plot all came together very nicely making the book definitely A good friend passed me this book to read. Must say it captivated me straight away and I enjoyed reading the first quarter. Then the plot got a little confusing and a little slow. I persevered and ploughed through what i felt was a little 'over literary', with references and vocabulary that had me stumped on multiple occasions. This book will definitely suit the better read and the more academically inclined audiences. In the end the plot all came together very nicely making the book definitely a worthwhile read :) Pendleton is a failing author turned professor who is suspected of a heinous crime involving the murder of a young girl. The investigation really starts after Pendleton's failed suicide attempt when the book really gets into gear. Pendleton, Wright and Adi are perhaps not your regular academics or students in the English Department, but I'm sure you would suspect they would be amongst them! Similarly Detective Ryder who is on the criminal investigation is hopefully not your everyday Detective, though i suspect people like him do exist in the force! You better go read it now anyways!!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Yulia

    I actually finished this embarrassing work, though the hardcover copy was filled with typos, sentences unintentionally repeated and complete derailing of topics mid-conversation (also not intentional, but a result of the author's having two potential ideas in mind and forgetting to edit one out). Collins mistakes stereotyped characters, misogyny, racism, elitism, and cardboard characters for social satire. It simply led me to wonder whether it wasn't a satire after all and Collins truly was a wo I actually finished this embarrassing work, though the hardcover copy was filled with typos, sentences unintentionally repeated and complete derailing of topics mid-conversation (also not intentional, but a result of the author's having two potential ideas in mind and forgetting to edit one out). Collins mistakes stereotyped characters, misogyny, racism, elitism, and cardboard characters for social satire. It simply led me to wonder whether it wasn't a satire after all and Collins truly was a woman-hater, as so many of the omniscient narrator's commentary struck me as simply hateful. If he is trying to be the next Evelyn Waugh, he has failed. If he is trying to understand the contradictions of American academia, he has failed. If he is simply trying to create a dark comedy-mystery, he has done a sophomoric job. This book was unworthy of the paper it used and the people it maligned.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

    Irish author Michael Collins, whose Keepers of the Truth was a Booker Prize finalist in 2000, took great risks with this murder mystery, love story, academic satire, psychological study, and gritty police procedural__and they all paid off. Described as a "stunning tour de force" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), Death of a Writer brilliantly transcends diverse genres as it simultaneously juggles different plot threads. While the first part of the novel is smart and compelling, it really picks up spe Irish author Michael Collins, whose Keepers of the Truth was a Booker Prize finalist in 2000, took great risks with this murder mystery, love story, academic satire, psychological study, and gritty police procedural__and they all paid off. Described as a "stunning tour de force" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), Death of a Writer brilliantly transcends diverse genres as it simultaneously juggles different plot threads. While the first part of the novel is smart and compelling, it really picks up speed when it transitions from a college satire into a frightening, unnerving police procedural. While critics were hard-pressed to characterize the novel, all agreed that it's serious literature.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Well, here's another book that made me think "Why haven't I heard about this book?" There's a surprise right at the start, it's a terrific murder mystery with a lot of twists, and some well-placed dark humor, and a surprising ending...why haven't I heard more noise, more kudos? It's well written, with some beautifully evocative phrases popping up throughout, one doesn't have to grimace through a whole lot of Most Importantlys,,. The only thing I can come up with is that it's hard to relate to a Well, here's another book that made me think "Why haven't I heard about this book?" There's a surprise right at the start, it's a terrific murder mystery with a lot of twists, and some well-placed dark humor, and a surprising ending...why haven't I heard more noise, more kudos? It's well written, with some beautifully evocative phrases popping up throughout, one doesn't have to grimace through a whole lot of Most Importantlys,,. The only thing I can come up with is that it's hard to relate to academic angst, or musings about it, hard to take it seriously or care for most of us, and there's a heavy dose of that in the first part of the book. Maybe folks put it down because of that, before they get to the meat of the book. If that's the case, push through, it's well worth it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Louise Jones

    I have heard a lot of criticism about writers of books writing about writing or reading as someone who adores most types of books i find it quite satisfying to get extracts from other books !! Pendelton is not having a good time of it basically a nd his work has dried up and not good in love and to cap it all the rabbit dies !! I liked this as it did not centre on one character for to long so you get a variety of outlooks interlinking . One of my bad habits when reading is to wander off and sta I have heard a lot of criticism about writers of books writing about writing or reading as someone who adores most types of books i find it quite satisfying to get extracts from other books !! Pendelton is not having a good time of it basically a nd his work has dried up and not good in love and to cap it all the rabbit dies !! I liked this as it did not centre on one character for to long so you get a variety of outlooks interlinking . One of my bad habits when reading is to wander off and start reading lots of books at the same time and am not a great follower of crime so maybe i should have concentrated more but at times I kept on forgetting who certain characters were and backtracking so basically not a waste of time but it is heading out of my flat and to the charity shop

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