A Very Persistent Illusion by L. C. Tyler (Macmillan New Writing) is not crime fiction per se, but it does contain a mystery, much humour and is full of suspense. As with the author's début novel The Herring Seller's Apprentice, this standalone combines a unique prose style and ability to tell a story that is a mixture of humour, quirkiness, inventiveness and the erudite, all glued together by cleverness. It's out now and the Herring series follow-up will arrive in August, later this year. So what is A Very Persistent Illusion all about? (I am deliberately avoiding the author's own summary and publisher synopsis here, as neither particularly appealed to me; thus I take a risk on my own interpretation.)
Our story narrator, London-based Chris (Christian – three syllables as in the original Danish, if you please) Sorensen does not wear socks, but he does wear chinos and a leather jacket to work. For all his previous academic achievements, he is an office middle-manager and one of the more obviously successful products of "the Peter Principle" – he has been promoted to the extent of his own level of incompetence – and is now the Director of External Affairs at the Royal Society for Medical Education, overlooking Regent's Park in London. As a team-leader, he is pretty crap; caught up with Virginia his girlfriend, he cannot help but notice and pursue Lucy, the new team recruit, most noticeable for her short skirts, clingy cashmere sweaters, youth and his potential next date. Neither can he take effective and accurate minutes for the Committee Meetings he attends as secretary; his mind is on the creation of spoof poetry.
Sorensen has, along with his pub-drinking companion friend "Fat" Dave Birtwhistle, developed the "Sorensen-Birtwhistle Revised Scale of Girl-Rage", based on Virginia's moods. But can we female (especially) readers blame Virginia for her moods when we meet her in dialogue, after being privy to Chris's internal thoughts? He's not the most sympathetic of characters; he likes a good gag, but that's about it, truth be told. He can deliver these and er, repetitively; but that's about it. He also loves his sports car. But, as the story progresses we learn more of Chris and his past and what makes the man today. It ain't all gags, either. And before we can even reach a shred of sympathy, the suspense in the novel has us asking lots of questions in respect of Chris.
The day Virginia's father suddenly dies is the day that a lot of things for a lot of people are thrown into the air. How it all lands is the further suspense of the story and it all leads to the dénouement. Surprises come at every (possible and possibly nasty) angle. Disclosures arise on every curve, with an appropriate pace.
Within all this, Tyler also brings us philosophy. Within a mere saffron strand running and mingling alongside, like octopus embracing tagliatelle, he occasionally uses the historical development of philosophy to lead to the next development of Chris's character (and character arc). It's kept to a decent minimum to stoke the plot and move it forward, where anything more would have been too burdensome.
It's not a crime novel, but I am not about to shout to the rooftops to say so, because it doesn't matter one iota. It's a damn fine novel of human relationships in this contemporary world, and another accurate depiction of life in this millennium.
But the one exclusive is this: L. C. Tyler has a remarkably unique voice in writing fiction. MNW did readers a remarkable service in picking this up. Readers can do no better than seek out the books of L. C. Tyler and others from the imprint. MNW does indeed bring us lots of new talent to our reading world and Tyler's A Very Persistent Illusion is another proof of that.