Reviewed by Jolie Money
A whodunnit mystery with equal parts social dialogue and humor, Exit by Belinda Bauer is a surprisingly light read for the subject matter it covers. Exit follows 75-year-old widower Felix Pink who, after watching his wife slowly succumb to Alzheimer’s, acts as an Exiteer, a volunteer who assists suffering people with suicide and comforts them in their last moments. Things go awry, however, when he and his new partner, Amanda, accidentally kill the wrong man and get thrown into a murder investigation. Told from the perspectives of both Felix and a young police officer named Calvin, Exit is filled to the brim with characters who will capture your heart and humor that will have you laughing out loud. I had a particular fondness for Mabel, Felix’s scruffy and sassy mutt who brought a smile to my face in every scene she was featured. Beyond the laughter and affection I experienced throughout the novel, I found myself shocked at every plot twist, a rare occurrence for my time as a mystery reader. An unlikely yet somehow genius mix of Fredrick Backman and Agatha Christie, Bauer brings heart and hilarity to a genre otherwise inundated with gruesomeness.
Bauer’s Exit falls into a long and historic line of British mysteries which tentatively started with Wilkie Collins The Woman in White and The Moonstone. However, the detective narration that has survived to this day, including Exit’s Calvin, began with the iconic Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 A Study in Scarlet. Doyle created a plethora of tropes that remain highly used in today’s mysteries, including a small number of suspects, the “resurrection” of previously killed-off characters, and the big reveal of the culprit, some of which are employed in Exit. Another trope of the mystery genre is the surprise twist. This trope originated from Agatha Christie, whose influence is clearly seen in Exit. The British mystery also focuses on one victim, where the American mystery usually involves multiple victims.
The American mystery began with Edgar Allen Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Roget, and The Purloined Letter. The buttoned-up, posh detectives in British mysteries stand in stark contrast with the hardboiled, rough investigators of America that became the mainstay in crime novels. While Exit is set in England and boasts many of the qualities of the classic British mystery, it also boasts some similarities to the American mystery. The characters are more multi-dimensional and less stately. Also, British crime stories don’t tend to have a specific main character, but Exit has that in Felix and Calvin.
Bauer interweaves the staples of British and American mysteries to create a modern entry to the genre that still holds the atmosphere of the classic whodunnit. The addition of the controversial topic of assisted suicide brings Exit to the contemporary landscape of the genre. While I personally hoped there would be more of a discussion about the divisive topic, it still added a novel (no pun intended) element to what could have been a standard mystery.