In the world of mysteries, the genre of post-modern whodunnits is smaller than one might imagine, but still notable, whether that’s Umberto Eco’s exploration of the genre (The Name of The Rose, which manages to combine a slew of deaths in an Italian monastery with ecumenical debate) or Cameron McCabe’s The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor which challenges the concept of killer, victim, genre, and reader against a 1930s London backdrop.
Dann McDorman is set to join this subgenre with West Heart Kill, an adventurous postmodern whodunnit that zooms in on an exclusive country club, the complicated rotten people who vacation there, and the mysteries that unfold at the introduction of a grizzled detective who may be the reader, the author, or someone else entirely.
McDorman is clearly a devotee of the whodunnit genre, splitting the first three quarters of West Heart Kill bouncing between prose that follows the detective (Adam McAnnis, a gleeful spin on the author-insert trope) as he attempts to solve crimes at West Heart, an exclusive vacation spot for the elite, and inserts that explain the history of the genre. McDorman shines in these inserts, shifting perspectives, points-of-view, and tones like the tides of a body-filled stream (a mild spoiler at most, dear reader), showing a love for the mystery genre that allows him to subvert with the same level of glee.
This subversion in fact may prove the most divisive part of West Heart Kill. The final quarter of the novel has an audacious twist that allows for McDorman to unveil something equivalent to a fourth-wall break, and the ending itself, including the resolution to the whodunnit, is ambiguous to a fault. Readers will walk away from West Heart Kill either dazzled with the final rug-pull twist or be infuriated at McDorman’s choice to do so.
There are glimmers of great character work here, belying McDorman’s background as an Emmy-nominated TV producer; McDorman giddily skips across the mystery genres, combining the setup of a classic closed-circle whodunnit with characters who would easily be found populating a noir (the grizzled detective, the plucky girl, the femme fatale, oh my!) and a tone that is both reverent of the genre’s history and irreverent in its usage of those well-loved tropes and trappings.
A meta-mystery that puts the emphasis on the reader as much as the genre and the characters, and with a final act that will prove divisive to every kind of mystery reader, West Heart Kill may well prove to be one of the most discussed mysteries of the year. Both a literary exploration and a well-composed mystery, McDorman displays plenty of narrative inventiveness and a willingness to take risks that, if nothing else, makes him a writer to watch out for.
West Heart Kill is out on 24th October from Raven Books.