The Semantics of Murder by Aifric Campbell
Published by Serpent’s Tail and Out Now
Some stories are linear with a beginning, middle and end. And then there are some stories that start near the end and look backwards. The Semantics of Murder looks backwards and as it does it pulls away the layers that make up psychoanalyst Jay Hamilton, whose life and mind may have darker recesses than some, if not most of, his patients.
Jay Hamilton lives in a fashionable area of London, listening to the problems of wealthy clients who visit his psychoanalyst practice. What they don’t know is that his brother Robert, a genius professor of mathematical linguistics at UCLA was apparently killed several years ago by rent boys and Jay was the first person on the scene. This might have stayed buried in his own psyche if it wasn’t for author Dana Flynn’s research into proposed biography of Robert.
Through the talks between Dana and Jay he finds out that he isn’t as in control as he thinks he is and he doesn’t know everything surrounding his brothers life and eventual death. Dana pokes, prods and peels back until Jay ends up revealing more and more of the story to the reader. Jay doesn’t like not being in control. A personality trait that he exerts subtly and repeatedly over his patients for his own means.
Aifric is a skilled story-weaver, laying multiple threads, that she pulls tighter and tighter. Not only does the picture of Jay Hamilton’s life and origins becomes clearer but also she keeps the tension taut as one of Jay’s patients unknowingly reveals more to Dana than he wanted.
There are plenty of shocking revelations. Both in terms of Aifric’s frankness about Robert’s sexual encounters and Jay’s responses to them to the character of Jay himself. As she exposes more and more it seems that she has reached the last layer only to pull one it away to reveal something darker.
All this might make it seem that The Semantics of Murder is a slow and thoughtful read. It is thoughtful but Aifric keeps events moving until eventual taking them out of Jay’s control.
In the end I’m left wondering if I actually like Jay Hamilton – he’s not a nice character if you examine him in a cold and clinical way and just deal in the facts. But he’s gains my sympathies from the seemingly inevitable direction his life takes.