City of Glass by Paul Auster
Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
City of Glass is a short, strange scrap of a detective novel that will leave you wondering what happened when it's over, and whether or not you've been had. It is the first of three novels Auster published in the mid-'80s that are collectively known as the New York Trilogy, all of which both serve as and are about mysteries. Fans of Chandler, Christie, Doyle and Queen, as well as latter-day practitioners of the form, will be able to discern many of the traditional elements of a mystery here: threats, private detectives, beautiful women, stakeouts, elusive targets, mysterious phone calls. And yet, everything is different.
The action takes place at a remove, following the actions of the protagonist, Quinn, himself a mystery writer. He becomes embroiled in a "case" when he is mistakenly identified as one Paul Auster, a purported detective. Later in the book Quinn meets Auster, who turns out to be a pleasant, helpful literary novelist. As Opus of Bloom County fame would have said, "Mr. Auster, are you funning with me?" Auster's answer, undoubtedly, would be "yes."
Games and clever language are central to this novel, and the story owes as much to Pynchon or DeLillo as to to any of the above-named mystery writers. This is a captivating mystery, but don't read it expecting to be kept anxiously waiting to find out at the end if the butler did it in the study with a nine-iron. Auster raises many questions in City of Glass, not all of which he answers, and at the end you will be left wondering which part of the novel was the real story -- and if you will ever find out.