Rima Lanisell is 29 years old when she arrives to visit her godmother, famous mystery novelist Addison Early, in Santa Cruz, California. Rima lost the last member of her family when her father, a journalist who didn't hesitate to document Rima's most intimate personal life for his column, died of cancer. In the dark, creepy, brooding atmosphere at Wit's End, Addison's rambling ancient Victorian, Rima hopes to recover from her losses but also yearns to discover the truth about her father's relationship with Addison.
At one time the two of them had been friends of some kind, but they had become estranged over the years. Was it because Addison had named a character in one of her mysteries Bim Lanisell (Addison's father's name)? Or could the reason be tied more to the fact that the fictional Bim Lanisell killed three people, including his wife? Had Rima's mother taken offense and caused the rift between the real Bim and Addison? And just who was the real Bim Lanisell? Certainly not the person he depicted himself to be in his newspaper column.
Meanwhile, Rima's uneasiness in her new surroundings is palpable, although it never causes her to lose her self-effacing humor (she lists all the things she's lost over the years, which includes a boyfriend, four cell phones, the keys to the car and the car, not to mention "one basically functional family"). Addison's house is filled with dollhouses, which are dioramas of the murder scene in each of her books. When one tiny doll murder victim corpse goes missing, Rima wonders who would take it: The used-to-be-homeless housekeeper, Tilda? Tilda's odd son? The young couple who walks Addison's dogs? She also wonders if she herself is under suspicion.
Meanwhile, Rima reads through letters addressed to Maxwell Lane, the detective main character in Addison's mystery series. She is so intrigued by letters from a woman in a now-defunct commune called Holy City that she impulsively answers one, signing it as if Maxwell Lane himself is replying.
As Rima continues her search for her father's true past, she delves online, discovering fan fiction based on Addison's mysteries, an outspoken and divided community of Maxwell Lane's fans, and even discussions about Addison's visiting goddaughter, Rima. She realizes that Maxwell Lane paraphernalia (such as the missing dollhouse corpse) would sell for a fortune on eBay.
Rima dreams of Maxwell Lane even as she continues to read his letters and the online speculation about him. She also discovers parallels and connections between real life and the fictional world in Addison's books. The line between real and imagined people blurs, leaving Rima to wonder what is true. (This rather enjoyable off-kilter feeling extends to the reader who is reading about one fictional character in WIT'S END who is reading about a fictional character in Addison's books --- rather on the order of a book-shaped set of Russian nesting dolls.)
Although I found WIT'S END to be quite different from Fowler’s bestseller THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB, I enjoyed it just as much. Rima's wry humor, the off-beat descriptions and unusual characters enliven a leisurely plot pace in which a mystery is set forth, embroidered upon and eventually resolved, while Rima also regains her footing in the world. I'd be at a loss as to how to categorize this unusual novel, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 24, 2011
- Publication Date: April 28, 2009
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Plume
- ISBN-10: 0452290066
- ISBN-13: 9780452290068