The Poet's Funeral

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A small-press publisher himself, author John M. Daniel's knowledge of book conventions and the intricacies of publishing, or “po-biz,” adds verisimilitude to this unusual mystery story. The victim of The Poet's Funeral is Heidi Yamada, a self-promoting poet whose success is based on manipulation rather than talent; the list of those with motives to eliminate her is lengthy. In her ruthless climb up the ladder to the dubious rewards of recognition in the literary world she has left a pile of bodies. When she dies at the convention of an apparent overdose, after attending an exclusive party to which she had not been officially invited, her first publisher, Guy Mallon—once her lover—decides to investigate.

The narrative framework of this story is intriguing—the novel begins with Heidi's obituary and is followed by chapters which begin with brief, smarmily hypocritical speeches about Heidi's talent and personal goodness, made by the major characters in her life. Each hyped eulogy is then followed by a chunk of narrative which gives the truth about the relationship between the speaker and the poet, one which always involved manipulation, deceit, and betrayal.

Guy Mallon investigates; he is taken for a ride by a photographer who says she is from Publishers Weekly but mysteriously disappears. An obsessed book collector, a drunken reviewer, an ambitious agent, and others are also candidates for the position of murderer, and the twists and turns of plot continue until the very end. A barrage of clever wisecracks adds to the fun; those who are at all acquainted with “po-biz” will be delighted with this novel, and those who are not will be informed and entertained.