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Wolf on a String by Benjamin Black

I was going to start this review by admitting that I had no idea how I came to be aware of this book, but I'm pretty sure I can blame this article in the The NY Times. You see, dear reader, I've developed this habit of reading about new books, and if I'm intrigued enough I search my library's website to see if they have it. Generally, since I live in a big city, the library has it. However, since I live in a big city, there are often several people ahead of me in virtual line for the book. I put the book on hold and promptly forget about it until the library emails me to pick up the book.

And that's how I ended up reading Wolf on a String. I figured it would be a mystery set in a historic period, and it is… kind of. The mystery really isn't the point of the book though there are a several dead bodies, and you do find out why they all died at the end of the book (in the last 20 pages or so). The revelation seems perfunctory; mandated by the book's genre, not by the author's story.

You see, this is a sort of story book set in the court of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor. The main character, Christian Stern, suffers an improbable rise in society and is saddled with the task of solving a murder. A task which he spends roughly 90% of the book avoiding as well as he can. Instead the reader is treated to multiple diversions with some memorable characters. And some darn good writing.

The one thing missing from this book is the sort of train track plotting that most mysteries deploy, but I didn't miss it because I was enjoying the writing.

Benjamin Black, it turns out, is the pen name of John Banville. Don't worry if you've never heard of him, because I hadn't. He is, so it would seem, the winner of a little thing called the Man Booker Prize which is much coveted writerly award. This dude can write, and if you like Writing (notice the caps there) then you'll probably enjoy this book.

Who should read it: Someone looking for literary fiction with a slight coating of mystery.

Would I read it again: Nope, but I will check out some of his other work.

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powells | WorldCat

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