The Criminalist: The Discreet and Dangerous Charms of David Carkeet

My newest column at the Barnes & Noble Review focuses on the novels of David Carkeet, many of which are being reissued over the course of this year by Overlook Press. Out now is his first, Edgar-winning book DOUBLE NEGATIVE (1980) and a brand-new mystery, FROM AWAY. Here’s how the piece opens:

One thing should be clear from the outset: David Carkeet is not a crime

novelist, not in the way we think of the term now. He doesn’t set out

with a sense of righteous fury to chronicle society’s ills, nor does he

wish to document murder in all of its transfixing brutality. Instead his

touch is lighter, more whimsical, featuring protagonists who, instead

of being tortured, are mildly affronted at best. When they find

themselves in the crosshairs of the law, instead of outright crusade,

their parallel investigations of the real culprit of murder carries a

veneer of the absurd, as if they know how ridiculous it is to play

amateur sleuth. And while a crime novel’s devil should always be in the

details, Carkeet’s characters are more often bedevilled by linguistic

anomalies, the taste of homemade pie, and the baffling habits of the

women they want to woo.

Put another way, crime fiction protagonists find murder, while murder

finds Carkeet’s reluctant sleuths. They aren’t looking for trouble, or

at least not according to their own occasionally convoluted logic. They

want to be liked, but sometimes have a hard time expressing that to

others, who misconstrue their habitual complaining as a manifestation of

darker emotions. The net result for readers is a sense of being swayed

off the expected narrative course into more intriguing, messier byways

of human behavior, whose larger mysteries will always dwarf that of who

killed whom…

Read on for the rest.