“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” – Erasmus
I wonder how many books feature Spokane, Washington, as their setting? Not many, I would venture to guess. Well, this police procedural does. I hesitate to call it a police procedural. It does feature a homicide detective, — a female homicide detective, always a plus in my feminist book, — who is on swing shift at the Spokane Police Department, working nights, when a derelict is brought in having been pulled out of the abandoned Davenport Hotel for vagrancy, and claiming he wants to confess to a crime.
And so begins this story constructed on the ‘story within a story’ model. The derelict wants to write his confession, and is furnished a legal pad and a pen, and begins to write. He says that a confession is worthless, because the authorities already know who died and who killed the deceased. But he wants to write context, to give his confession meaning. He will not give his name, nor the name of the person he claims he has killed.
The bulk of the book is his confession, a linear story starting with his childhood experiences with a neighborhood bully and a neighborhood ubergeek, or nerd, or dweeb. At one point, the bully forces him and another friend to join him in a beebee gun war against another neighborhood bully, during which our unnamed (so far confession writer) is shot in the eye and loses the eye.
As he continues his school career, he finds he is a joiner and a runner-for office, and eventually goes to law school in Seattle, and in order to impress his now grownup crush from high school whose husband is a venture capitalist in this heyday of .com startups, claims he can steer them to a video game of some interest, which is being worked on by the old neighborhood dweeb. The VC guy goes to Spokane to see what they have, our confession writer and the dweeb hire some coding guys to patch together some semblance of a game which impresses the VC guy, who then produces a wheelbarrow full of money for development of the game. Our writer is hired by the VC people to drum up startups, which he does with some ease, he makes a ton of money, and is encouraged by the dweeb to run for state governor. He loses. Big surprise, yeah?
Meanwhile, as he is writing, the detective does some pretty snazzy detecting and learns who he is, his friends, and a bit of his story before having read any of the ‘confession’. She is frantically looking for a body, because she is being told by her superiors that the writer is just another fruitloop and she needs to cut him loose, but she doesn’t agree. She thinks there is something to this.
There is a lot about her and her life, her thoughts, and the book cuts back and forth between the ‘confession’ and her investigative efforts.
At one point in his life, the writer’s brother says to him that he (the writer) doesn’t know who he is, and asks whether the true us is the persona that we see, or the personna that others see, and accuses his brother of being the person other people want to see, so much so that he doesn’t know who he really is inside anymore.
The title is wonderful, multi-layered, from the loss of his eye (it’s always either a stick or a bee bee gun, various characters opine throughout the book) to the quote from Erasmus at the beginning of the book, or the various musings, (“For the first time in my life, I could see. Or I was blinded. Or there’s no difference.”, “The less honest I was, the more famous I should be. The very limit of human blindness is to glory in being blind.” – St. Augustine, ), to the idea that most of the police force could not see him for what was really going on, and Detective Caroline could.
It was a good mystery, and at the very end, a bit of a thriller, but it was basically a kind of love story.
Turns out this is the second of the Detective Caroline mysteries, so I snagged the first, Over Tumbled Graves, and I sure hope it is as good is this one.