A literary agent receives a partial manuscript, a memoir of a period at Princeton University from 20 years before. The manuscript, by a man named Richard Flynn, concerns a professor, Joseph Weider, who was murdered at the time. The case was never solved. Weider was rumored to be involved in a secret government project involving memory and was preparing a manuscript of his studies for publication. The manuscript disappeared and was never found.
The literary agent, Peter Katz, is intrigued enough to hire a freelance journalist, John Keller, who begins to track down the principal players in the Weider story. The author of the partial memoir, a student at the time who was working on fiction and was helping Weider catalog his library, has died of lung cancer since sending his manuscript to the agent. Weider’s student assistant, Laura Baines, is a housemate of Flynn who introduces him to Weider. Then there is the handyman, someone who suffered a memory blackout after killing his wife and spent time in a psychiatric hospital under Weider’s supervision.
Keller takes his reporting investigation as far as it can go. But he inspires the original but now retired investigating police detective, Roy Freeman, to pick up the case. Freeman has recently learned he’s in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The Book of Mirrors by E.O. Chirovici was something of a literary sensation when it was first published in Britain. The author is a native Romanian who had published 10 detective novels in his native language. He now lives in Britain, and The Book of Mirrors is his first novel in English. It’s almost amazing to read a novel written by a Romanian living in Britain that’s set in Princeton, New Jersey, and New York City – and gets the feel of America and American academia so well.
The story is a mystery, but it is also about memory. How do we remember things? What do we remember? How do our memories change over time? How do two people involved in the same situation remember the same events so differently? And why might they want to remember the same events differently?
Reading The Book of Mirrors is like walking through a mirrored fun house at an old amusement park. The reflections continue to change and continue to surprise. Little seems to be as it first looks. When you think you understand what you see in the reflection, you step to the next mirror, and it all changes once again.
Top photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.