Review. The Man of Maybe Half-a-Dozen Faces, by Ray Vukcevich.

Oh. I just checked this on Amazon, and it’s out of print. This is a crime. I picked this up at the East Library in Colorado Springs, which has a permanent library sale room, and has become my tiny little used-book store of choice. The selection is both small and varied enough that you can cover the whole range, instead of lurking in a single section, or spending two hours to find the treasure of the day.

The Man… is a mystery novel, but not so much a mystery novel as it is a playful book. The obvious connection is Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. Another good one is the Lemony Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Does that make sense? The books are all mysteries, in a technical sense, but they spend more time pushing the boundaries of plot and character than they do with the mystery itself. In Motherless Brooklyn, the narrator is the crony of a dead man with connections to the underworld–and has turrett’s syndrome. In the Series…, the narrator is the “author,” a man in hiding, pining over his lost love Beatrice, and reporting with Marvin-the-Robot optimism the fates of the three siblings.

The Man of Maybe Half-a-Dozen Faces‘s narrator is a detective with multiple personality disorder. He’s investigating the deaths of bad technical documentation writers in Eugene, Oregon. He’s been hired by a woman who may or may not also be her brother; she was recommended by a Russian man, part of the same (Secret) Brotherhood of Documentalists, and a member of the detective’s support group for tap-dancing addicts. –What makes the multiple personality thing so much more than just another clever schtick is that everyone has multiple identities, both online and off, and everyone has problems keeping them separate.

Mysteries, for some reason, can really put a finger on the times: just as Sam Spade (et al) reflected the additudes of people that lived through the World Wars, some of the newer mystery writers deal better with the newer elements of culture–like here, the internet and information age–than so-called literary writers. And, despite bragging to the contrary, even science fiction writers.

And the book passes my highest criteria, the flip test: any given paragraph will suck you in.

“Okay, the flash was a dumb mistake, but we learn from our mistakes. When things get too automatic there’s usually trouble. Put it on the to-do list–get a simpler camera. Lulu pushed open one of the stalls and went inside, closing the door behind her. Looked around. This would have to do. She didn’t sit down.

We took a deep breath. We took a bunch of deep breaths. We waited ten minutes.

Lulu peeked out into the bar, but the angle of the door was wrong, so she couldn’t see much. We couldn’t hide in the ladies’ room forever…”