In theory, this had quite a lot to recommend itself to me, with its Cambridge setting, its focus on the dark goings on within academia, its central character a metaphysician, and plenty of ethical and moral debates in store, coupled with a curious time-travelling murderer, so lots of history too. A sort of weird squiff of Shardlake and Donna Tartt perhaps.
So I settled down with enjoyment, only to start tutting and sighing extremely quickly. Benedict is a good writer, creates interesting character quickly, crafts the language well – BUT Benedict is also a clever wordsmith, a bit too fond of her own clever, witty word plays – attempting to hide this as her central character’s foibles, but it is fairly clear it is Benedict herself who is a little indulgent with her word plays:
“Well, that’s not very erotic”
“No, but it is erratic”
“Satnam is a minimalist, with a spreadsheet for his bedsheets”
I could feel my ire beginning to rise at the spectacle of someone being self-consciously witty for 400 pages.
And then, quite suddenly and quickly, the book got its claws into me. Our central character is weird, a little damaged, a bit gawky, believable – and at sea. A parallel story unfolds as murders and corpses begin to puzzle our hero. The police team enters on the scene – and our central cop is a female, struggling to come to terms with her diagnosis of breast cancer and the choices to be made. (This is not a spoiler, it is very quickly introduced)
We have a Northerner at large with a slight Northern chip on his shoulders and a sad past as the central character, trying to make sense of himself in an elite intellectual hothouse, and a female detective battling the glass ceiling and a diagnosis.
Clare College Bridge, Cambridge (Andrew Sharpe)