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Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.


S. - Doug Dorst, J.J. Abrams

For those not already familiar with S. this book – how to explain it? – is a layer of two stories:  the book itself, Ship of Theseus, written by the completely mysterious V.M. Straka, and the unfolding story of Eric, a former post-grad student who accidentally leaves his copy of Ship of Thesius in the University Library, and Jen, the undergraduate working in the library who finds it, starts to read it, and leaves a note in the margins when she returns it, to apologise to the then-nameless stranger for 'borrowing' it.  From this first note begins an ongoing friendship and collaboration taking place almost entirely in the margins of the book as they work together to unlock the mysteries of Straka's identity and the secret of the S.


I'm not quite sure how to review this book.  I'll start by saying I confined this, my first reading, to the story of Jen and Eric as it unfolded in the margins and limited my reading of the actual 'book' in S. to the portions that Jen and Eric underlined.  I'll re-read this book in the future and pay more attention to Ship of Theseus, but avoided doing so this first time because it would have taken me forever and it would have been a bit overwhelming all at once.


The art, the detail, the random bits of Jen and Eric's story placed between the pages of the book is magnificent.  I can't even think what was involved in printing and then assembling this book.  Is there a machine made that can insert a printed napkin in the pages of a book?  Does some poor soul have to do these by hand?  Either way: magnificent.  I'm a sucker for books like this with their extra bits, but this is probably the most elaborate I've seen.


I also enjoyed the writing.  J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst brought Jen and Eric to life with their coloured inks, their jokes, their unfolding stories, their growth as individuals.  What little I've read of Ship of Theseus, while not my kind of story generally, was very well written, very esoteric and somewhat uncomfortable to read at times.  It does my head in to think of the story lines the authors had to craft and develop: Jen and Eric's, Ship of Theseus, V.M. Straka, and F.X. Caldeira's just to start.  The story of the S.  All of it.  Layers upon layers and I know I didn't get a lot of what was there to get this first read-through.  I'm going to be going "ah hah!" each time I re-read this book.


If you appreciate books that include and weave ephemera into their stories, this book is worth owning for the sake of the work involved in assembling it and for the story of Jen and Eric.  If you enjoy digging at the clues, the codes, the hidden messages in esoteric writing and assembling the bigger picture, S. will give you plenty to chew on and entertain you as you work at it.