The Man Who Wasn’t All There
reviewed by Gail Byrd
Stewart Hoag, central character in The Man Who Wasn’t All There is the perfect example of gestalt theory: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As for the parts, he is one part author, one part dog lover, one part dry-witted one-liner, and one part detective. Combine them all and you have an exceptionally entertaining protagonist who forms the basis of a book you won’t want to put down.
This is the twelfth installment of the Stewart Hoag series, but there is no need to have read any of the other books to enjoy this one. While there may be relationship issues that are developed in earlier novels, the murder mystery in this book is central to the story and everything else is window dressing. The Man Who Wasn’t All There is written in first person, with Stewart Hoag narrating his own story which adds to the intimacy of the entire story. It’s as if you are sitting in a comfortable chair in his study, balloon snifter in hand with an inch of expensive brandy inside, listening to him recount his most recent experience.
The tale itself begins with his description of how it feels to be writing again after a long spell of writer’s block. He began his current novel in his apartment in New York, and has now moved to his ex-wife’s home in the mountains of Connecticut for the opportunity to write uninterrupted. As the book opens, he is settling into the house along with his guard dog, Lulu, a basset hound who eats cat food and loves anchovies. While he thinks about his novel, he goes about finishing a few chores, convinced there is another level to the story which hasn’t surfaced in his brain.
Interrupting this idyllic life, a psychotic man—who happens to be the second wealthiest man in Connecticut—comes careening up the driveway in his beat-up Crown Vic, tricked out to look like a state trooper’s vehicle. When Hoagy steps out to talk, he learns the man, Austin, is looking for Hoagy’s ex-wife expecting her to help him because he needs counseling and she, as an actor, once played a counselor in a movie. When Hoagy tells Austin she isn’t there, he roars back down the drive after hurling threats at Hoagy, which he doesn’t take seriously. After all, Austin is in tattered clothes that are put together to look like a uniform, but he is a roly-poly man who doesn’t come off as physically fit; his car is filled with junk food wrappers lining the back seat, and he smells as if he hasn’t bathed in at least a week. How could Hoagy take that seriously?
Hoagy’s assessment changes when, shortly after Austin leaves, the driveway is filled with vehicles containing state troopers, a special envoy from the governor, and eventually Michael, Austin’s brother and the richest man in Connecticut along with his four ex green berets and their guard dog, Pinky (she looks more ferocious than the name implies). From this point, the true nature of Austin’s psychosis begins to show, resulting in an injured Hoagy and a murdered Austin which brings Marilee back to the United States from Budapest where she is filming.
As Hoagy improves, he spends time thinking about the murder and, when Marilee returns to the set to begin filming again, he begins doing some research in earnest. There is also a second murder, which creates some ideas regarding the possibility of a different motive. Hoagy takes all this in stride, and eventually enlists the aid of the state trooper who is head of the investigation in order to obtain a confession from the murderer.
Throughout the book, Hoagy’s narrative is laced with one-liners and dry humor remarks which give a different flair to both the character and to the way the novel reads. It serves to lighten the novel even though there are two rather bloody murders that take place as well as some more hard-nosed characters in the form of state troopers, the governor’s man who Hoagy suspects as being a former CIA operative, and the ex-green beret bodyguards for Michael. All of this combines to make it difficult to classify the book other than to say it is perhaps one part cozy with entertaining characters, one part police procedural with state troopers always remaining in the loop of what is happening, and one part detective fiction because Hoagy solves the mystery as a private individual who shares his information with the police.
The Man Who Wasn’t All There is an enjoyable read and one you may have difficulty putting down, so carve out some time in advance to sit and devour.
My thanks to Canongate Books, Severn House and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy for this review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.