When archivist Nadia Fontaine is found dead of an apparent drowning, Emily Snow is hired by Regents University to finish the job she started—to organize and process the papers of Raymond West, a famous Pulitzer Prize–winning author who has been short-listed for the Nobel.
Emily’s job comes with its inherent pressures. West’s wife, Elizabeth, is an heiress who’s about to donate $25 million to the Memorial Library—an eight-story architectural marvel that is the crown jewel of the university. The inaugural event in just a few months will be a gala for the who’s who of San Diego to celebrate the unveiling of the Raymond West Collection and the financial gift that made it all possible.
As Emily sets to work on the West papers, it begins to dawn on her that several items have gone missing from the collection. To trace their whereabouts, she gains unsupervised access to the highly restricted “dark archives,” in which she opens a Pandora’s box of erotically and intellectually charged correspondence between Raymond West and the late Nadia Fontaine. Through their archived emails, Emily goes back a year in time and relives the tragic trajectory of their passionate love affair. Did Nadia really drown accidentally, as the police report concluded, or could it have been suicide, or, even worse, murder? Compelled to complete the collection and find the truth, Emily unwittingly morphs into an adult Nancy Drew and a one-woman archivist crusader on a mission to right the historical record.
Twisting slowly like a tourniquet, The Archivist turns into a suspenseful murder mystery with multiple and intersecting layers. Not just a whodunit, it is also a profound meditation on love, privacy, and the ethics of destroying or preserving materials of a highly personal nature.
Archivist Emily Snow, the 27-year-old heroine of this verbose, melodramatic murder mystery from Pickett (Sideways), is hired by Regents University's Memorial Library in San Diego, Calif., to finish cataloging the work of Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Raymond West after the death of her predecessor, Nadia Fontaine, in a surfing accident nine months earlier. When a computer search turns up a "dark archive" ("a digital cosmology containing anything and everything that for reasons of privacy should be undiscoverable by the public road map of the finding aid") containing a detailed account of an affair between Raymond and Nadia, Emily begins to wonder about the unusual circumstances surrounding Nadia's death and takes it upon herself to investigate. Meanwhile, the plan of Raymond's heiress wife to donate $25 million to the library and the possibility Raymond will win the Nobel Prize for Literature complicate her efforts to discover the truth. Pickett raises serious questions about the cult of the writer and the ethics around preserving an artist's work for posterity, but overwrought descriptions, a plot slowed by too many points of view, and a lack of suspense make this a slog. Genre readers can safely take a pass.