I debated between four and five stars on this one, but really the only reason I would doc it a star is that I spent a huge portion of it preoccupied with the fact that Sheppard couldn't possibly be a detective in 2010 or 2011 given that he was just starting medical school in 1944 (making him no younger than 20, and most likely closer to 25) and so must be 86-91 years old, ridiculously old for an acting detective. However, Ross provides for this in the end because ultimately the whole murder is part of Pepin's novel and not actually happening. And so, we have to blame Pepin for the sloppy editing and not Ross.
It is written in video game style (much the same way that Chabon wrote Kavalier and Klay to emulated a comic book); all of the characters get a do over and death doesn't really count; there is a sort of predetermined storyline that the characters all follow (it is very easy to see Hastroll and Hannah as well as Sheppard and Marilyn as following similar planes to David and Alice), different players in the same game if you will. Certainly there were tons of similarities between them (the mother died in childbirth for both Alice and Marilyn, the staged robbery at Shepard's was similar to the robbery at Pepin's right before Alice's murder, both men assist their spouse by covering the diaphragm with spermicide before sex, both men are called curses while on a dangerous cliff over the ocean, both men decide that they love their wives through cheating on them, Hannah and Hastroll sleep in a pair of twins pushed together as Marilyn wants to do with Shepard)...but of course this is because Pepin is using pieces of things that he comes across in his real life to populate his book.
It also reminded me of a choose-your-own adventure book, even though the reader doesn't actually pick the adventure, there are several paths within the book. And, it was like Mullholland Drive (which I found to be refreshing given that all the overt film references are to Hitchcock). In particular, the scene with Susan on the cliff coming back from the wedding had two versions: in one he stops to put up the top and cuts his thumb; in the second he hits a dog and then beats it to death to put it out of its misery in much the same way that Marilyn dies a few months later. The gore and mist of these scenes reminded me of the car driving up the hill in multiple version of the truth of Mulholland Drive.
Besides being so compelling and having an entertaining and complex plot, the writing itself was oftentimes witty and insightful. For example a few quotes:
"that's the thing about the middle. It's like holding your breath longer than you think you can. It's the point before you black out, right before you surface." and "You felt some sort of resolution or ending luring you forward but had no idea really how to actually arrive at it, though you had to get there nonetheless. Life, when you came right down to it, was like that too."
"Built-in bookshelves climbed to the ceiling, the spines a brand of wallpaper that bespoke luxuries: education, quiet, time to read."
"To make a child was like pushing the button to trigger the obverse of nuclear war: mutually assured creation. The willful act of utterly altering your lives, it was radical. Even the attempt to make one potentially changed everything."
"Is it like smoking? This need you have. Because I don't want to smoke. No, that's not right. I don't want to feel so weak afterward. I don't want to feel like such a failure." and "You know the relief of breakdown and gorging. You know the guilt afterward."
"The person in your mind, isn't the person in the world. He must realize this." and "If you don't, look in the mirror. That's you and not you, after all, because the person in your mind isn't the person in the world. And if you don't know that already, you will."
Overall it was very well done and entertaining, but also meaningful on many levels.