The Mysteries is a rarity: an astonishing first novel remarkable not only for the high calibre of its prose, but for the utterly satisfying end it offers to its highly original plot. The story unfolds around the disappearance of Alice Pederson, who was last seen attending a solstice celebration at the property of a local man, Cam Usher. When her remains are discovered two years later on Usher’s land, her shattered husband seeks the help of an investigator to try to determine whether the death was murder or suicide.
Weaving back and forth in time and narrative perspective, McGill deconstructs the complex series of relationships and events culminating in Alice’s death. What quickly becomes apparent is that everyone in town has something to hide: Stoddart Fremlin, accused of murder after a witness saw Alice getting into his car; the local prodigy, Daniel Barrie, with whom she carried out an unresolved affair; and Cam Usher himself, who was told by Alice shortly before her disappearance that his property lies on an ancient burial ground – an accusation that he had long disputed with local native groups. The cast of characters even includes two tigers, the descriptions of whose inner lives rival the best passages in Life of Pi.
There are many more players in the novel, and all are subtly interwoven into the threads of each other’s lives. If anything negative can be said of The Mysteries, it is that sometimes the breaks between narrative voices are too long. One promising character – the fascinating, obsessive trash collector Archie Boone – is introduced late and then inexplicably dropped.
McGill has created a virtuoso novel with all the confidence and sophistication of a far more experienced author.