David Slavitt is a man whose life is in slow decline. He’s a full time writer of crime novels – his debut was a smash, but since then each has sold in smaller and smaller quantities. As Slavitt’s star has waned in the crime world so has his relationship with his agent, Julie and publisher, Peter. But despite it all Julie hasn’t quite given up on Slavitt yet, convinced that increasing the violence in his work is the answer. Being a bit more like Jo Nesbo might improve sales. When he’s surprisingly nominated for crime novel of the year, Slavitt begins to wonder if Julie might be right.
As Slavitt’s success has dwindled so has his waistline expanded. These days he’s an unfit, fat lad, more likely to eat than type. His relationship with his wife, Maggie, an attractive woman who’s far too good for him, has also slipped into the doldrums. A lecturer at a nearby university, Maggie is about to become a professor. However, she is under a cloud at the institution and rumours abound in the community and among university staff that she’s having an affair with a student or two.
Even where they live, in the Norfolk countryside, what should be a rural idyll, is a sham. Slavitt misses city life. As well as writing he’s a stay at home husband, having to deal with the housework and the kids whilst plotting his new bestseller. It’s Maggie who brings home the bacon.
Slavitt becomes obsessed with his wife’s supposed affair, even abandoning a book tour in the US to spy on her. He has to do something to turn his life around, but how far is the author prepared to go?
This is an intriguing novel. The Slavitt element of the narrative is written in the first person, which quickly draws you into his sad little world. Writing for him is like pulling teeth, slowly and without painkillers. If you happen to be an author, a lot of his issues will be familiar to you – trying to come up with a second winner after an unexpected success is difficult. It’s harder to see, however, that any author could have less confidence than Slavitt.
Cut into the Slavitt narrative is the novel he is working on, titled Kristine. Slavitt admits, rightly so, that he’s not particularly good at selecting titles for his novels. This is a third person, police procedural crime novel concerning the investigation into a murdered woman, found naked, washed up on a beach. Police corruption plays a large role. Both stories can be read as stand-alones. So in effect My Criminal World is two – albeit individually short – books in one. Initially, switching between the two stories can be challenging. The two books are literally spliced together – there’s no chapter based distinction between them, no clear signposting, beyond a different font. Towards the conclusion of My Criminal World I was more interested in what was happening to Slavitt than the events occuring in Kristine.
That said, this is a cleverly crafted novel. Slavitt is incredibly dull, riddled with angst, which makes the relatively ordinary events occurring around him seem all the larger. Taken at face value the doomed author’s challenges are pretty ordinary, but Sutton is smart enough to make them loom them large in Slavitt’s mind while at the same time making them meaningful to the reader. Overall it’s witty, entertaining and compelling.
Henry Sutton has also added to RD Wingfield’s series of Jack Frost novels, writing as Henry James. You can read a review of Morning Frost here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars