Title: The Semantics of Murder
Author: Aifric Campbell
Release Date: September 1, 2009
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail
Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Jay Campbell’s brother, Robert, was brutally murdered in their home in California. After this horrible experience in which Jay was the one to discover Robert’s body, Jay feels to London where he establishes himself as a psychoanalyst there. About 10 years later, a young woman comes looking for Jay who is interested in his brother’s murder. Her investigations reveal previously unknown and unacknowledged truths about Robert’s murder that Jay must come to terms with.
When I picked up my review copy of The Semantics of Murder, I was in the mood for a gripping murder mystery. That’s what it seemed like it might be, according to the summary. However, what I got was so much more than that – in fact, this isn’t even really a murder mystery in the classic sense. It’s too character driven, too focused on the psychology of the novel. The mystery is actually secondary to Jay’s story
The Semantics of Murder is actually based on a true story. A professor was murdered in 1971 in America, but no killer was ever found. Campbell takes this small plot thread and weaves a beautifully rich story around it.
Jay is a complicated character who ise difficult to really get to know. In a lot of ways, he holds the reader at an arms length, yet much of the novel is spent inside his head. It’s an incredibly dark novel; Jay seems to be emotionally stunted. It is clear that his morals are ambiguous, yet the reader is unsure how far that extends. He’s not a likeable character, but that doesn’t matter for this book. The worse it gets, the more the reader wants to know about him.
The Semantics of Murder is also a beautifully written novel. Campbell’s writing is breathtaking. It is what carries the novel. Though the plot is compelling, it is the prose that really keeps the reader addicted. The quality of her writing is superb; I would seek out her books based on that alone.
This is a surprising book that defies all expectations. The murder mystery is satisfying, with unexpected twists and turns, the characters are expertly crafted, and it is incredibly well written. It’s definitely something that fans of literary fiction should pick up.