Cover of Murder At the ABA
Book 172 Mystery Novel 1976
Asimov on Physics How Did We Find Out About Atoms?
1 spaceship-and-sun
Asimov fan
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Target reader

Trace back the violent death of a friend and see how it happened.

So second-string writer Darius Just is forced to ruminate when murder rears its ugly head within the glamorous world of publishing. For amidst the brouhaha of a convention of American Booksellers, Just’s onetime protégé (now best-selling author) Gilvore manages to pull off the publicity stunt of all time: turning up dead.

Convinced that his own sin of omission may have set off a bitter chain of circumstances that caused the death, Just searches out motives to establish a case for murder. And as he does so, his path crosses with all sorts of unsavory types—including one Isaac Asimov, who himself comes under suspicion.…

A wonderfully woven, old-fashioned tale of murder in which the pen is indeed proved to be mightier than the sword.

This is the second of Asimov’s two mystery novels, and I must confess that I do not like it nearly as well as the first, The Death Dealers (aka A Whiff of Death). Indeed, my first review and rating of this book were rather harsh—but Ed Seiler suggested I give it a second chance, and so when I recently reread it, I tried to ignore my earlier prejudices against it and be fair. And Ed was right, I was being too harsh.

This doesn’t mean that I’m now a big fan of Murder at the ABA. The two features of the book that I didn’t like before I still don’t like (more on that later), but I dislike them, perhaps, a bit less than before, and my overall impression of the remainder of the book is rather more positive. In particular, the presence of Asimov as a character in the book, which really bothered me before, doesn’t particular bother me now.

There’s a catch, of course. The book is nominally Asimov’s writing-up and fictionalization of the adventures of a minor writer named Darius Just, who discovered the murdered body of his protégé, Giles Devore, at the 75th annual American Booksellers Association convention. As such, Asimov and Just engage in a certain amount of banter and bickering in footnotes, where Just expresses his unhappiness with some of the things Asimov does to his story, and Asimov defends himself.

I didn’t like the footnote schtick before and I don’t like it now.

As for the other really negative factor, there’s Devore’s rather bizarre sexual tastes. I can’t say I’m really thrilled with its presence in the book even now, but I admit that it does form an integral part of the plot and Asimov couldn’t easy have jettisoned it. I am still sufficiently prudish, however, to be bothered by the fact that all of the characters seem to be painfully aware of their sexual standing one to another. I know that this happens in real life, of course, but perhaps I don’t like attention being drawn to it in quite this way. And I’m not sure that having this novel end as does The Gods Themselves (with the male and female protagonists deciding to have sex one with another) is exactly the ending I would most like.

That, however, is a matter of taste and I admit to still being prejudiced. I remain someone who isn’t anxious by any means to read this book again in the future—but I am far more willing to recommend it to someone else.

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