Josh Cook has spent more than a decade working on his debut novel An Exaggerated Murder. The novel follows private investigator and genius Trike Augustine as he solves a case. Problematically, the clues are so stupid they begin to stump the detective. Cook launched the novel at WORD in Brooklyn.
The quirky new detective book comes from independent publisher Melville House, although it almost didn’t. The publisher initially rejected the manuscript. Six months later, they changed their mind, sending Cook an unexpected email. He was at work when he received the update. He then preceded to embarrass himself with an awkward, flamboyant celebration.
The audience was asked to vote on what chapter Cook would read. He gave them the options of The Ramones, Patti Smith, Willy Nelson, and Madonna. There was only a tangential relationship between the musicians and the chapters, although cook says of Willy Nelson that many of his songs are downers: “all the best country songs are depressing.”
Cook is a bookseller at Porter Square Books in Cambridge and as a result is quite familiar with the publishing process. He wasn’t at all surprised, for instance, to sign a contract in 2013 and have another eighteen months pass before the book was released. He does say that he and his editor didn’t always agree. And he adds, if there are any parts the reader doesn’t like, those are the ones his editor made him change.
The book has been in the works since 2002. There were many permutations. He took a five year break from the novel where he played around with pulp fiction and other genres. He says it was probably always going to be some kind of mystery novel when he was writing it.
The character of a brilliant but socially troubled detective is an old trope. Cook cites Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle as originators of that kind of character, although he adds it is difficult to read in English without coming across some kind of detective story. he says the greatest American detective novel of all time is The Maltese Falcon.
“It all goes into the blender and this came out,” Cook says of his novel.
Featured prominently in the book are a several drinking games that his characters invent for each other. “I tend to do those things,” he says, which presumably means Cook’s friends spend plenty of time drinking. Drinking games are really intimate things, he says. People can end up drinking too much if they are done incorrectly, or not enough. He hasn’t seen an example of drinking games in another novel before.
Cook is also a huge advocate for reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. He says he accepts that it isn’t for everybody, but he still thinks everyone should read it. “There are parts you aren’t going to get,” he says, but adds it’s important to get to know life through words.
“I don’t think you are less of a person if you don’t like it,” he says.