The copy of Mr. Peanut from my local public library has a green sticker on the spine that says "Mystery." One might conclude that the book was a story about who done it, but one would be wrong. The mystery in Mr. Peanut is "what the H. E. double hockey sticks is going on?" Which is not to say that it is a badly written book. On the contrary it is a highly readable literary novel that should not be put in the "mystery" ghetto.
The book does start out with the death of one of the main characters, an apparent suicide by allergic reaction to peanuts. Alice Peppin's husband, David, does have a fantasy life which revolves around her demise, either by murder or accident, and he is secretly writing a novel about it.This is the literary part of things - David Peppin's novel melds with Adam Ross's novel. He tries of various alternate endings and presents them to the reader in a serial menu of Alice deaths.
The entire middle part of the book is dedicated to Dr. Sam Sheppard and the murder of his wife, Marilyn in 1954. This is actually the part of the book that I found most absorbing. It was a well crafted character study of a man who had multiple extramarital affairs. The events surrounding the murder remain as murky as they were during Shepard's actual trial - although the boor reverts back to the present and the Peppin's long before any trial. There is no mention of a one armed man.
The novel then jarringly jumps to an earlier time in the lives of Alice and David Peppin, probably in the mid to late 1990's. Once the reader settles in to this section it becomes an interesting character study of these two young people, dealing with a miscarriage while on a flight to Hawaii . Then it jumps back to the beginning, I mean the end, where several alternative deaths are presented for Alice and a mysterious yet irrelevant person named Mr. Mobius is introduced.
In Adam Ross' fictional universe Sam Sheppard has become a police detective in New York and is part of the team investigating the death of Alice Peppin. This ignores the fact that the historical Sam Sheppard died in 1970. Since David Peppinis a successful designer of games, including massive multiplayer online games it's unlikely that the events in his part of Mr. Peanut take place in the late '60s.
I enjoyed, yet was frustrated by reading Mr. Peanut. It seemed to me to be an attempt to write a post modern, self referential, novel using perhaps the outward form and trappings of the popular murder mystery but without delivering any of the action moving plot techniques that are part of that genre. That would be hard to do, of course, when the course of the book jumps back half a century to people and events that have only a tangential, thematic, relationship with the original story. I think there is the beginning of a great piece of historical fiction in that middle section, waiting to be born.
Keywords: novel, literature, crime fiction, Dr. Sam Sheppard, the fugitive