Imagine PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie working collaboratively in mid-2005 on a comical crime mystery novel that involved an eccentric yet polarising group of characters and a structured yet outlandish plot. It sounds bonkers, but that’s the best way to describe The Writing Class by Jincy Willett.
Here’s the brief: Amy Gallup, a washed-up novelist and reclusive widow, starts another semester teaching various humans how to master the art of writing. And this group seems more promising, stimulated and eager to learn. That is until someone in the class becomes sadistic, pulling evil pranks, making creepy phone calls and drawing sordid caricatures instead of writing peer evaluations. And when a student is found murdered, everyone becomes a suspect. With the help of her overly enthusiastic class – including the murderer – Amy sets out to unmask the killer among them.
How’s that for a promotional blurb?
There’s something beautiful about how effortlessly the book balances sarcastic humour and sadism within a chaotically organised plot. Agatha would understand, and Wodehouse would grin with levity. Your safety feels threatened by the lurking murderer and yet can’t help but giggle at the odd jokes scattering the novel. A lot of them relate to the art of storytelling, but plenty more are slapstick.
The story borders on unbelievable, but it’s just enough believable thanks to the wild storyline and eccentric characters. Jincy perfectly snags the reader with her stunning wit, not so much through the plot points or the mystery of the murderer, but through exceptional characterisation and clever detail. She plots with ease; never overdone.
This book also comes with the added bonus of randomly placed writing tips and pointers. Wanting to learn to some writing skills? Then take a semester with Amy Gallup. You get to learn important lessons for the price of a fancy solo dinner (or a cheap dinner if you buy it second-hand). You just have to tolerate some weird and wacky classmates and a psychotic murderer with delusions of inadequacy. No biggie. And crime fiction fans who want a break from stressful narratives and cliché detectives should definitely seek out this book. Amy is no Hercule Poirot, nor is any of her students, which makes the premise so mouthwatering.