Conceived by J.J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst, “S.” is a post-modern mystery novel that is a story within a story. In the story of “S.” is a book called “Ship of Theseus” by the mysterious V.M. Straka. Between the margins of Straka’s book are handwritten notes passed between a young woman and a young man, Jennifer and Eric, who flirt and fret while digging deep into historical documents to unlock the identity of V.M. Straka and, ultimately, themselves. “S.” is one book, two readers and a world of mystery, secrets and puzzles.
The question of “Who is V.M. Straka?” haunts the story throughout. Is he a man who could foresee the future? Or is he a manipulative spy in a complicated game of espionage? Did a killer really assassinate Straka, or was it merely a hoax to fool the public? Some say Straka killed a man once, and others believe he was involved in numerous sabotages. The disgraced grad student Eric desperately needs to solve the identity of the author and publish his Ph.D. thesis before someone else steals it away from him.
Straka is a man incredibly private to the point where no one has ever set eyes upon him. The select few who actually receive telegrams and letters from him find no return address and are instructed to burn the papers immediately. Who is V.M. Straka? The rumors swirling around the writer become darker and darker as Jennifer and Eric dig deeper.
“Ship of Theseus” is presumably Straka’s last book in which a man with no past finds himself wandering an old, dirty, rat-infested sailor town called The Quarters. He is forced onto a ship with a strange crew, and from there sets out on a bewildering and dangerous journey. “What begins at the water shall end there,” Straka writes, “and what ends there shall once more begin.” Will the stranger find himself once again?
As the producer of the television show “Lost” and the movie series “Star Trek,” J.J. Abrams has taken his creativity for confounding mysteries to a new medium. The book comes with bits and pieces of old postcards and age-worn newspaper articles. An old-fashioned compass and torn pictures are evidence and clues to Straka’s identity.
The first time through the book is a scavenger hunt where readers enjoy the smelly, sea-sickening story and pieces of old treasure that Jennifer and Eric have gathered. The second, third and fourth time, however, it turns into one big jigsaw puzzle that the readers have to piece together with Jennifer and Eric. Do you have what it takes?
“S.” is a book with two stories that is capable of taking its readers down a very unfamiliar road. It is a book that requires much of its readers but rewards them with endlessly beguiling stories and mysteries.