Book Review: The Last Book

The Last Book
Zoran Živkovič
PS Publishing, UK

Anyone who is an avid bibliophile can readily assert that the one quality that separates an “excellent book” from its “very good” siblings is that it is unputdownable. This quality is a rare trait, and even rarer is its manifestation in the mystery genre of the short-novel type. Even scarce is that special kind of mystery - a literary mystery - the kind as experienced when reading Jostein Gaarder or Lewis Caroll or Umberto Eco. At a time when the market seems to be flooded daily with paperbacks that run along the alphabet, exhort the cliché, revel in presenting a stereotypical “Yuppie” outlook, and (to say the least) fondly follow a long-forgotten dogma that the center of the Universe lies in the Central Park; here comes a novella that makes a detour in time and style, that sparkles with effervescent originality and acerbic (yet heartwarming) wit that can only be found on the other side of the Atlantic.

“The Last Book” is a delightful short novel by the Serbian author Zoran Zivkovic ( Zivkovic returns to his favorite subjects – books, more specifically, a rustic bookstore with a lost-in-time ambience; that also serves as a sinister backdrop for a series of unsolved murders. The “story” follows Inspector Dejan Lukic as he attempts to solve a series of bizzare deaths/murders at the Papyrus Bookstore. Vera Gavrilovic, the owner of the bookstore, dons the mantle of the required romantic interest, though she may well be the femme fatale herself. The only clue lies hidden in “The Last Book”, so called because it is indeed the last book. The plot twists and turns at a fairly brisk pace and every hint of predictability is brushed aside nonchalantly after every successive chapter. Its as though Zivkovic wants to issue a whodunit challenge to the user at every possible instance. Every clue, and red herring, is subtly sown into the plot, and for those readers who enjoy reading a mystery from the last page -- sorry folks, the last page, while providing an extreme dramatic twist (only understood if you have attentively read the previous chapters), does nothing to make you understand whodunit? Rather, the mystery is not just a whodunit, but a where-and-why-dunit as well. Zivkovic is at his best penning the verbal jousts between Lukic and Olga Bogdanovic, Vera’s business partner. An interesting array of eccentric patrons - the ‘patients’ - provide the soup of usual suspects, and the solution to the deaths may lie with more than one of them. But which one or ones? Read it to find out !!

My only grouse lies with the rather hurried ending, with events neatly folding (or unfolding?) into place and characters suddenly acting outside their comfort zone. However, to be fair to the author and the length of the novella, the rapid shuffling may well be justified as apt and needful.

Rating : 4.5 / 5.0