Chris Petit's novel The Psalm Killer, published in 1997 to wide acclaim, is among the best and most electrifying fictional explorations we have had of the "troubles" in Northern Ireland. Now he brings that same narrative mastery to a dark, searing novel that takes us deep into the compulsions of self-destruction and fame.
Youselli is a cynical, disillusioned city cop painfully aware of the downward spiral he's on. McMahon is a fading but still profligate rock star who has begun receiving letters signed in the name of a girl who died fifteen years ago, when he was at the height of his fame. McMahon is desperate to know who's writing them. Youselli is reluctant—the privileged decadence and celebrity games of McMahon's life both irritate and attract him—but he agrees to investigate.
Almost immediately Youselli is pulled into the eerie mystery of the letters—their combination of anger and yearning, their fierce sexuality, their seeming authenticity in the face of their obvious fabrication and, especially, their strange fatalism: "A man once told me I was malfated. Imagine being told that . . . He said I would never avoid my destiny to be malfated. Make a left instead of a right and it's there waiting. Our lives hang by the slenderest of threads, every minute of every day. You should remember that for when I come. It all ends in death, as you will know."
And though the letters are addressed to McMahon, Youselli begins to feel more and more implicated by them himself. He senses that they are somehow tainting the lives of those who read them—especially Edith Weber, the psychiatrist he has enlisted to help him understand the mind behind the letters (and who might help him understand his mind as well)—but he grows increasingly blind to the effect they are having on his own life. Finally, he too appears to be malfated: following the deadly inner logic of obsession, he becomes both detective and fate's agent, the "solution" to the puzzle of the letters leading him toward his undoing.
Powerful, chilling and unexpected, Back from the Dead is a clear confirmation of Chris Petit's remarkable gifts.
About Chris Petit
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Published January 1, 1999
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction.