The first novel in Paul Auster’s trilogy has Daniel Quinn, listless widowed mystery writer, receiving a late-night telephone call. The speaker asks for Paul Auster (‘someone he was not’), supposedly a private detective. Quinn, who identifies more readily with his own fictional private eye, Max Work, than with his nom de plume, William Wilson, takes the opportunity to impersonate Paul Auster, and arranges a meeting with the caller. He is Peter Stillman, a childhood victim, in Peeping Tom fashion, of a father ‘s brutal experiments. Locked up for a decade in a DIY deprivation unit, Peter Stillman is now a linguistic cripple (‘Numb noise, flacklemuch, chewmanna. Ya, ya, ya’). Stillman’s father, imprisoned for this unreasonable behaviour, is soon to be released. His son fears retribution, and Quinn/Wilson/Work/Auster is instructed to tail him.
A non-detective impersonates the book’s author, also not a detective. (Auster appears as a writer, cosily ensconced in a self-mockingly yuppie apartment, entertaining Quinn with a tongue-in-cheek theory of Don Quixote’s authorship). Detection, it soon becomes clear, is taking place in an unaccustomed environment – in a fragmented, unsteady world,