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A clever whodunnit which will keep the reader guessing as its plot finally unfolds

By Darragh McManus

The Book of Mirrors comes with a backstory almost worth a novel in itself. This mystery is the English language debut of EO Chirovici, a bestselling author in his native Romania.

After rejection by a host of publishers and agents, the book was accepted by a small American press but - plot twist - they didn't feel they could do it justice, and encouraged Chirovici to try again with the majors. Within a few days he had a UK agent, who sold the book to 38 countries worldwide.

It's in that category of "domestic noir": think Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. So it's easy to understand Chirovici's success: those books currently sell like gangbusters. The story, while complicated, can be reduced to a bite-sized Hollywood tag-line: "Murder, madness and memory-loss in academia".

The murder takes place in Princeton, that iconic American college town, though the story begins in New York, where literary agent Peter Katz receives a partial manuscript from advertising executive Richard Flynn. This forms one of three first-person narratives; the others are the recollections of investigative reporter John Keller and ex-cop Roy Freeman.

In short: Flynn was a student at Princeton in the late 1980s, where he fell in love with fellow student Laura Baines and came to know her mentor, professor Joseph Wieder. A few months later, the brilliant but manipulative Wieder is beaten to death - the list of suspects is long.

It could be Flynn, jealously suspecting a fling between the prof and Laura. Or Laura, angry that Wieder wouldn't give her equal credit on an upcoming book. Or Derek Simmons, a handyman who'd beaten murder charges 20 years earlier on an insanity plea and now suffers retrograde amnesia. The case was never solved; Flynn's manuscript claims to know whodunnit. Unfortunately, he's about to die of cancer and his partner doesn't know where the rest of the book is. So Katz enlists Keller to investigate.

There's much to like about The Book of Mirrors. The story is clever, well-paced and well-constructed. Chirovici's story is just serpentine enough to keep the reader guessing, but not so much so that it gets tangled up in its own strands. Yet Chirovici's novel feels somehow inauthentic: an approximation of America, or an idea of it, once removed, not a true expression of the place. It feels slightly askew.

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