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A Feature Review of
Death Comes for The Deconstructionist: A Novel
Hardback: Slant Books, 2015
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Reviewed by Lesa Engelthaler
I have a thing for short first sentences. In Death Comes for The Deconstructionist, Daniel Taylor delivers three of them rapid-fire in the opening of the first chapter, “Something is wrong. I’m not well. The voices are back.”
Taylor has written eleven books, though this is his first venture into the vast frontier of fiction. I admit I hold fiction on a bit of a pedestal. To me, only the best of the best write fiction. Taylor’s debut novel does not disappoint.
Jon Mote, the main character, is, according to soon to be ex-wife, a cosmic screw-up. Along with his marriage, Jon has also failed at school, his career and even in his relationship with his developmentally disabled sister, Judy. Even so, Jon has been hired to investigate the murder of a former grad school English professor. Sherlock Jon does at least one thing right in allowing Judy to be his Watson.
The ironic and completely unqualified detective duo of Jon and Judy is brilliant. I was reminded of the scrappy underdogs Swede and Reuben in Enger’s Peace Like a River. As in Enger’s powerful tale, I felt a strong pull to both of Taylor’s characters: I am two-parts dark, lost Jon and, yet, I aspire to be even one part remarkable Judy.
While Death Comes For the Deconstructionist is indeed a page-turner whodunit, the reader delightfully discovers a depth and nuance in the character development. In an interview with the author, Taylor relates his connection to his protagonist: “Jon has my ‘mental furniture’–books read, movies seen, hymns sung.” It would seem the living room arrangement of Taylor’s mind provides comfortable and familiar furniture for all who enter this tragic-comedic tale.
Taylor satiates his literary crowd with allusions to Poe and clever prose like, “Starting and finishing sentences is a bridge too far.” Those who grew up in church will be delighted by Taylor’s biblical references with a twist: “If Judy is for you, who can be against you?” He offers just the kind of Flannery O’Connor wit we love to read. The deconstruction of Jon’s own faith could be the admission of any vulnerable seeker, “People do kill their gods. I know I did.”
Admittedly, as the voices in Jon’s head grew louder and the plot progressed towards nasty grim, I dreaded where Taylor might be taking us. However, readers will discover Taylor is a much better writer than to revert to senseless violence. He even goes as far as to shine a bit of redemption in the darkest parts.
Taylor has found himself in fiction, and has only scratched the surface of what beloved Judy can do with Jon. I hope a sequel is not far off. Grab a copy of Death Comes for The Deconstructionist so you aren’t behind.