Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Murder at the ABA

Murder at the ABA: A Puzzle in Four Days and Sixty Scenes
© 1976 Isaac Asimov
230 pages

    On May 25th, 1975, booksellers and authors gathered in New York City for a weekend of networking, book pitches, and speeches. One such author would not live to see the convention’s second day. His body was found in his bathroom by his one-time mentor, the apparent cause of death a sudden blow to the head caused by a nasty bathtub fall. His estranged friend and former mentor is not convinced that this matter is innocent, based on the condition of the room – and what appears to be spilled heroin upon a countertop. Just is also bothered by the possibility that his last contact with Devore consisted in publically humiliating him for being a mean-spirited heel. Thus, without sanction from the police and to the dismay of hotel staff who don’t want their good name soiled by implications of murder, Just begins investigating the matter .

            The story’s plot unfolds over the course of four days. Just elicits the help and advice of many of his fellow convention-goers, most particularly his friend Isaac Asimov. Asimov has been consigned to spending time at the conference in order to write a book called Murder at the ABA. His publisher, Doubleday, wants him to finish the book within three months’ time so that it can be ready to sell at the next convention. That book is Murder at the ABA:  as Just informs the reader,  he is allowing Asimov to use the story of these days in return for his occasional help. As Just is a writer himself, he sometimes steps into the narrative to chide Asimov for taking too many liberties. This approach proved to be surreal, but entertaining to say the least. Often Just and Asimov argue in the footnotes, and Asimov has a knack for self-depreciation.

    As Just investigates, he finds that many people might have felt inclined to do the often-obnoxious DeVore in, but none of this explanations includes the spilled heroine, which mysteriously went missing as soon as hotel security arrived. After listening to Asimov and Carl Sagan debate Uri Gellar and other practitioners of woo, Just wonders if he is just as guilty in convincing himself that DeVore has been murdered. (This debate, says Asimov in an afterward, was real, as was the conference and most of its guests.) He must get to the bottom of the matter before the convention breaks up, least he be plagued  by the thought What if?

            Murder at the ABA is an Asimovian classic, a page-turner replete with dry humor  and allowing Asimov to have  more than a little fun at reality's expense.

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