A printer is found dead in his workshop, his body in the shape of an X. It’s the beginning of a mysterious series of murders that all have something to do with typography, a mystical scheme to devise the perfect font, and a host of printing puns.
Nick Gadd’s Death of a Typographer is a clever romp, a kind of noir Dan Brown with serifs instead of angels, and a beautifully designed book into the bargain. Is it the weirdest detective story ever? Not really, but it’s in very distinguished company. Another Australian, Sulari Gentill, won a Ned Kelly award last year for Crossing the Lines, a mindboggling novel where two writers invent and investigate each other.
It’s a universal attraction, tinkering with the rules. Ever since the crime novel came into being, somebody somewhere has been sending up the genre or pushing it out to the far edge of bizarre.
Umberto Eco had a Sherlock Holmes type meeting mad medieval monks in The Name of the Rose. Thomas Pynchon loved wacky conspiracy theories and gave us some psychedelic noir in his novel Inherent Vice. Roberto Bolano introduced us to a sky-writing poet murderer in Distant Star. And Michael Chabon’s hardboiled whodunit, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, is set in an alternative world where Alaska is a Jewish state.
In more recent years, crime fiction has become even stranger. American writer Gabino Iglesias has come up with a list of 10 weird novels for Crimereads. Repo Shark by Cody Goodfellow is set in Hawaii and features drug dealing, fighting, guns and ancient deities that turn into sharks. Embry by Michael Allen Rose sounds familiar: murder, fights, a femme fatale. The difference is that all the characters are chickens.