It’s a little awkward reviewing this type of book. Paul Sussman was a highly acclaimed archaeological thriller writter, before he died suddenly, at a young age. This book was his first attempt at a novel, and was written many years before he garnered any fame. Dusted off and revised by his wife and a team of editors, this is first time the novel has been published. The process of bringing the book to publication is described in a moving foreword by Sussman’s wife, as being a cathartic and rehabilitating process. This makes offering an objective opinion difficult.
The book is uneven. There are some parts that work really well, and other bits where it drags and seems silly. It’s hard to know whether this would have made it to publication if submitted by a new author. I suspect not in its existing state. It might have done though; it resembles smash and surprise bestseller The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window by Jonas Jonasson. In its original form Sussman’s novel predates Jonasson by a significant amount of time, but it is only now being released for public consumption. Again, without TOHYOM, its hard to imagine this book would have been published. It isn’t of the same quality. But publishing likes to find copycats, and in the wake of Jonasson’s bestseller, RIP would have made it into a bookshop no matter who had written it.
The story follows the 99 year old Raphael Ignatius Phoenix as he approaches his 100th birthday. He was born on the first day of 1900 and he intends to die on the first day of 2000. He will commit suicide using a pill he has carried around for nearly his entire life. Phoenix is writing the account of his life, peculiarly, on the walls of his castle home. Starting with the present day he peels back time, decade after decade presenting significant details from his life. Phoenix has had many professions – bank clerk, TV star and butler to name but three. Further frisson is added with the knowledge that in each decade of his life Phoenix committed a murder.
The tale is picaresque; a shaggy dog’s story full of humour. It’s laugh out loud funny in places, but is wearing in other. RIP is not a likeable character, but the scrapes he gets into, whilst often tend towards the ridiculous never fail to entertain. Whilst the stories are historical, they aren’t woven into history like The One Hundred Year Old Man, and this is probably why Jonasson’s is the better book. The ending of the book is downright strange, but peculiarly fitting considering the circumstances the novel is published under. This isn’t an undiscovered masterpiece, but it’s an entertaining novel filled with wit and humour. It probably won’t convert many people to Sussman’s writing, but his fans will probably be glad of the opportunity to read a final offering from an accomplished author whose light was extinguished too soon.
Many thanks to the team at Transworld for sending me a copy of this book to review.