Man in the Empty Suit
by Sean Ferrell
Review: A man time travels every year to the same hotel, to attend the same convention with himself at every year of his life, only to learn that sometime before his next birthday he will be murdered … and only he can solve the crime … in Man in the Empty Suit, a stand-alone mystery by Sean Ferrell.
The man narrates the story and is unnamed, referring to himself by how he presents himself at the convention every year. This year, his 19th to attend, he is Suit as he is wearing a particularly fine suit that he selected specifically for this year. The man was born in 1971 and the man is chronologically 39 years old. But the year of the convention is 2071, the 100th anniversary of his birth, so there are younger versions of himself there — he refers to these as the Youngsters, though no one is younger than the Inventor, the age at which he first attended the convention — and older versions of himself there — the Elders. And he has devised a set of rules by which all attendees must abide: Elders know best; No guests; If it broke before, let it break again; and so on. But this year is different, very different, most particularly because Sober — the person Suit will be next year — is found dead in the elevator. The Youngsters, of course, know nothing. The Elders won't say, as whatever they say may affect their own timeline. As Seventy tells Suit, "I don't envy your pursuit. If you fail, I'll never know, as I just won't be. But you'll know, because you'll end up lying here in this filthy elevator."
Man in the Empty Suit is, not unexpectedly, a most unusual murder mystery. There is always a paradoxical problem with time travel stories of any kind, and it is incumbent upon the person telling the story to make it credible. For the most part, Suit achieves that here in the first few chapters, introducing the characters — which, of course, are all the same person — and setting the stage for the murder to occur. And the last few chapters, where the crime is not exactly solved but more or less explained, are really quite exciting. It's the lengthy middle section that doesn't work here, suggesting this might have been better served as a longish short story instead of a novel-length book. Part of the problem is that the story becomes more incredible — less credible — the more the rules (outlined prior to the first chapter) are broken. The "no guests" rule, for example, is broken when a woman shows up at the convention. At that point, it becomes pretty obvious what's going to happen (eventually) and even to make a (really good) guess at the how and why. And while not exactly a rule, the whole premise that Suit has been attending this convention all this time, at various points in time, and is interacting with himself, is shaken when the concept of "tethering" is introduced, that his current timeline can become "untethered" from another of his timelines, but they can still co-exist. That comes across as more of a plot convenience than the alternate reality that it is probably supposed to imply.
This is most certainly a different sort of crime novel. And if — big if — considered as such, the book leaves the reader somewhat unfulfilled. It ends up spending relatively little time on what is set up to be an impossible crime and its resolution, and too much time on the more mundane metaphysical aspects of the story.
Acknowledgment: Soho Press provided an ARC of Man in the Empty Suit for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Man in the Empty Suit: New York City
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Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication Date: February 2013
List Price: $24.95