The New York Trilogy

Daniel Quinn, Blue and Nameless (aka “Fanshawe’s Friend”)

Created by Paul Auster (also writes as Paul Benjamin)

“It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.”
the opening lines of City of Glass

“(They are) seething with possibilities, with secrets and contradictions. since everything seen or said, however trivial, can bear a connection to the story’s outcome, nothing must be overlooked. Everything becomes essence.”
Quinn explains why he loves mystery novels, from City of Glass

“He feels like a man who is condemned to sit in a room and go on reading a book for the rest of his life. This is strange enough — to be only half alive at best, seeing the world only through words, living only through the lives of others. But if the book were an interesting one, perhaps it would be so bad.”
— from Ghosts

Author Paul Auster takes the conventions and cliches of the genre, and converts them, distorts them, and turns them inside out in this semi-autobiographical, high-falutin’, sometimes exasperating literary trilogy that’s also — if you don’t over-think it — a heap of fun; a sort of shape-shifting jigsaw puzzle.

The first novel in the trilogy, the Edgar-nominated City of Glass (1985) follows DANIEL QUINN, a private eye writer whose fiction and real life worlds collide when he answers a mysterious late night telephone call for help. Once a promising “real” writer and poet, since the tragic death of his wife and son, all Quinn has written are mysteries, under the pen name of William Wilson, and featuring P.I. Max Work. And just to further blur the lines, the calls Quinn starts receiving are from someone looking for a P.I. named Paul Auster. What else can a poor writer do but pose as a P.I. to get to the bottom of it all?

In Ghosts (1986), a would-be private eye known only as BLUE , a student of Brown, is hired by a man named White to watch a man named Black, who lives in a neighbouring apartment on Orange Street. Unfortunately, after watching Black through the window for over a year, Blue starts to lose it — all Black seems to do is sit alone in the room, writing a book. Or maybe not. Maybe Black himself is spying on someone. And writing it all down. And maybe that someone is Blue. Maybe. Finally, Blue loses it for real…

The concluding book in the trilogy, The Locked Room (1986), is something else again. When the famous writer Fanshawe disappears, his boyhood friend, the unnamed narrator we know only as FANSHAWE’S FRIEND, is asked by Fanshawe’s beautiful wife Sophia to go through her husband’s effects: boxes and boxes boxes of manuscripts, journals, poetry and plays that she wants him to read and evaluate. But the friend slowly takes over Fanshawe’s life, publishing his work, marrying Sophia, adopting his son, even as he becomes obsessed with his investigation into his friend’s disappearance.

All three brief books are rendered in the terse, tough patter of detective fiction, hard-boiled down to its essence. But it turns out to be just what’s needed for all the heavy lifting these books require, hitting just the right note as questions of identity, creativity, memory, passion, commitment, friendship, love, death and life itself are raised, dropped, and rendered moot as the plots twist, turn, and fall back on themselves “like literary Mobius strips–by turns curious and surprising and always fascinating,” as Fredic Scott of the San Francisco Examiner put it.

These books have more layers than a truck full of onions, but, like noted literary critic Eddie Cochran once said, “when it all comes true, man, that’s something else!”


  • Before he became so gosh-darn literary, Aster wrote Squeeze Play (1982), a “straight” P.I. featuring New York gumshoe Max Klein, and written under the pseudonym of Paul Benjamin. It’s actually quite good.


  • “… post-existentialist private eye…It’s as if Kafka has gotten hooked on the gumshoe game and penned his own ever-spiraling version.”
    –Washington Post Book World




  • PAUL AUSTER’S CITY OF GLASS | Buy this book
    (1994, Neon Lit/Avon)
    Based on the novel by Paul Auster
    Adaptation: Paul Karasik, David Mazzucchelli
    Graphics: David Mazzucchelli


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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