Author’s Note (according to Amazon)
- The Semantics of Murder was inspired by the life and work of Richard Montague1, a brilliant and controversial Professor of Philosophy at UCLA who was found strangled on the bathroom floor of his home in Beverly Hills on 7th March 1971.
- The investigating detectives at the LAPD suspected that it was Montague's best-kept secret that led to his death: he was gay, highly promiscuous and had a particular preference for rough sex with black guys. The most likely explanation was that Montague was killed by a trick he had picked up Downtown. The murder remains unsolved to this day.
Amazon Customer Review
- Jay Hamilton is a 51-year-old West London psychoanalyst who, unknown to his 'clients' [as they apparently, since he is not a doctor, cannot be called 'patients'], has made the stories of several of them the basis for his fictional forays, having already published successful commercial novels. Jay is planning a new book, comprised of eleven short stories based upon selected case histories. But he has now become a source for another writer, a young woman who is writing a biography of Jay's brother, Robert, older than him by eighteen years and a brilliant professor of mathematical linguistics at UCLA who was a murder victim at age 41.
- Ten years later, Jay had left Southern California for good, and must now revisit in his mind that harrowing time so that he can regurgitate those memories for author Dana Flynn. "In December 1971, at the age of twenty-three, Jay found he'd buried his entire family in the space of two years." His thoughts run thus: "Jay could not be sure if these were memories at all, or if it was just the absence of presence that he remembered, all the things that didn't happen, walking scrub-kneed to church on Sundays alongside the click of his mother's unaccompanied heels, past other families who made a perfect set, when the Hamiltons had a missing piece, a father who wasn't dead, only unaccountably absent. A deserter." Those few lines should provide a glimpse of the quality of writing which is in store for the reader.
- According to an author's note, the book is based on the real-life murder in 1971 of a brilliant and controversial UCLA Professor of Philosophy, unsolved to date, who was "apparently gay, highly promiscuous and had a particular preference for rough sex with black guys," at least two of whom were thought to have strangled him to death in his own home. And this is the likely scenario of how the fictional Robert Hamilton died.
- The book, fittingly for one where a main character is a semantics and linguistics luminary, is only nominally a murder mystery, and for about the first hundred pages is elegant in its language and the scope of its interest, including a page-long discussion of a book by Primo Levi, among other topics. It turns considerably darker in the last half of the book and became, for this reader, ultimately profoundly disturbing. Nonetheless, the prose is a joy to read, one I recommend you discover for yourself. The author, Irish by birth and now living in Sussex, England, speaks of being "bewitched by language," something certainly evident here and which will assuredly be experienced by the reader as well.
- I agree with much of what the above reviewer says, and in particular that the book is “profoundly disturbing”.
- All the characters in the book are completely selfish with no anchor to their lives other than pride, jealousy, resentment and unfulfilled desires. The rather too frequent sex-scenes – whether homosexual or heterosexual – are exploitative and completely divorced from any loving attitude.
- Jay’s family life is utterly dysfunctional, with his mother resenting him as an unwanted late arrival, and completely – and uncritically – devoted to his successful older brother.
- The two parts of that brother’s life are not stitched together in any kind of way and are not explored at all. Just why would someone so talented and devoted to an intellectual discipline have such a debased private life? If you want any light shed on Richard Montague, you won’t find any here.
- Jay himself doesn’t seek to help his clients – just to exploit them; initially for their fees, but secretly for their stories.
- I disagree somewhat with the Amazon reviewer remark that it’s not really a “murder mystery”. Plot spoiler: … it looks like Jay finished his brother off, out of jealousy and resentment at his mother’s favouritism, and that the police are on to him in the closing pages of the book, though whether this is because his brother’s “cold case” has been re-opened, or because of his selfish lack of care for a client who ends up kidnapping a friend’s baby, a possibility he’d predicted in one of his as yet unpublished short-stories, that his brother’s biographer had seen, is left unclear. Maybe both.
In-Page Footnotes ("Campbell (Aifric) - The Semantics of Murder")
- Serpent's Tail (30 April 2009).
- The book has a website - The Semantics of Murder, but it required me to install Flash, and then a message popped up saying Google Chrome was using my Webcam, so I didn't pursue it.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)