422 pages, Headline
Review by Marc Nash
Bateman (too cool for a first name and I do wonder if he revels in the echoes with Brett Easton Ellis' character) is from Northern Ireland. A place he has his no-name main character remark, which traditionally has produced little crime fiction because of its much bigger and more political picture that produced its own real-life horrific acts of violence. With peace in our time, Northern Irish thriller writing may just feel empowered to emerge into the light. With Bateman in the vanguard, for this is one irreverent and yet gentle homage to the genre. Like any homage, there is true affection behind it.
The main character in Mystery Man owns a bookshop dedicated to crime fiction. Next door to him is a private investigation agency, but it has remained shuttered for six months and its clientele drift over to his shop in hope of some enlightenment. The bookshop owner takes on some of the cases, armed with the twin prongs of having read every single crime plot ever devised and a thorough knowledge of the human mind through standing behind a counter and serving the public. But he is such a mass of neuroses, allergies, hypochondrical ailments and obsessive compulsions, wedded to a mean yellow streak, means he only takes on cases of things like mystery graffiti and missing trousers. Until the big case and some love interest seeking to be his sidekick come a calling. The stakes then become higher in both respects.
Think an Ulster version of Christopher Brookmyre, without the ultra-violence. A Carl Hiaasen without the environmentalism. Just the mentalism. For the novel is an hilarious set of observations on human frailty and sending up the beloved conventions of thrillers and noir. It even concludes with him determining to reveal the whodunnit having assembled all the main players Agatha Christie style.
His personal shortcomings and tics are funny, though they are maybe too numerous for a reader to imagine him able to function in the world at all. While the female sidekick who at least has the name Alison, veers from being a kick-ass Amazon, to a really rather credulous and insipid flouncy woman. But their relationship is charming and you root for them.
Yet these are small quibbles in what is really a rather enjoyable meander through an off-kilter approach to a well-worn genre. I shall definitely be paying Mr. Bateman's works a further visit in the future.