Twisted, the latest work from rising-star author Steve Cavanagh, isn't the greatest crime novel you'll ever read, but it does at least offer a fresh - no pun intended - twist on the genre's well-worn format. You might even describe this as a metatextual mystery.
To explain: while Twisted is written by the real-life Cavanagh, who hails from Belfast, it presents itself from the first page as a book, also called Twisted, by one JT LeBeau. This author is fictional in our world but real in the fictional world of Twisted - well, sort of.
LeBeau is an actual person, churning out bestselling thrillers once a year, but he's also a construct. The name is a pseudonym (I wonder if that's a little nod to JT LeRoy, the infamous memoirist who turned out to be fake in a 1990s literary scandal), the one person who ever met the author is dead, and nobody knows his real identity. Despite years of fevered fan-theories and newspaper investigations, his true self remains as much of a mystery as the hook-laden plots of his books.
LeBeau declares, at the beginning of Twisted, that this is the last thing he'll write. We'll know why by the end. The novel then brings us into the "real" world where Paul Cooper, a troubled young man, stands ready to shoot someone dead at a 'funeral' being held in LA for the late JT LeBeau.
Confused? You will be, deliberately so, but never fear: by book's end, all has been explained - if not always to my satisfaction, in terms of narrative logic and plausibility.
We then meet Paul and his wife Maria, a troubled couple living in the fictional town of Port Lonely. (Cleverly, Cavanagh keeps the geography vague, adding to the novel's slippery nature. By some "LeBeau fanatic"-style detective work, I think I worked out that it's on America's east coast, south of, and relatively near to, New York.)
Paul is distant and secretive. Maria is fed-up and having an affair with Daryl, a likeable slacker working in a local country club. One day, looking for cigarettes, they bust open a locked drawer in Paul's study and discover a bank statement. Paul has a secret account, receiving a million dollars a month from LeBeau Enterprises. He must be the mysterious author. He's kept this from Maria for all these years; worse, he's something of a tightwad, controlling her spending and fretting about a lavish lifestyle. She's furious. Her and Daryl cook up a plan to get their hand on some of the $20m. Naturally, things start to go awry almost from the get-go.
We'll say no more: most of the fun in Twisted is following the convoluted plot, with its myriad switchbacks, fake-outs, red herrings and, you guessed it, twists and turns. Cavanagh keeps us guessing throughout, as characters shapeshift, misfortune intervenes, and local sheriff Abraham Dole, plus his gifted detective Melissa Bloch, try to work out what the hell is going on, in tandem with the reader.
Not so much fun is wading through Cavanagh's prose, which is serviceable at best. And as mentioned, a few plot points simply didn't add up for me. Not the really key ones, but central enough to interrupt the story's flow and annoy the reader a little. Again, I'll say no more: you'll probably recognise them when you see them.
In conclusion, Twisted is the sort of crime caper that, if told by a gifted writer like Elmore Leonard, would be something of a minor masterpiece. At it is, it's a bit of fun that will pass a few hours.
Darragh McManus's novels include 'Shiver the Whole Night Through' and 'The Polka Dot Girl'