The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge by Patricia Duncker

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The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge by Patricia Duncker

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Buy The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge by Patricia Duncker at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An interesting look at the fallout of a cult's mass death, with intriguing characters providing a literary alternative to the whodunit.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408807040

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It's rural France, and 2000 is barely begun, when hunters come across a spread of human corpses in the mountains. Several families, all in the same cult, seem to have killed themselves on their path to wherever. If so, this is a problem, for the last time it happened, in Switzerland a few years previous, nobody could work out why – and who was there to dispose of some of the evidence. This isn't a problem for the policeman involved, as he fell desperately in love with the investigative judge in collaborating on the initial case. Combining again, they see a link with everybody involved in both cases, a famous conductor /composer.

As the slightly unusual title of the book suggests, the policeman isn't to the forefront of goings-on. And nor really is the composer, as intriguing as he might be. It's the judge that's of prime interest, and in a book where several key people fall in love with her, so did I to some extent. It's noticeable that nobody gets fully described as regards their looks, but her personality is finely wrought, always one step away from anybody in any police procedural you might have read before. Her impartial life in investigating cults and sects brainwashing the French comes across very well.

Any success in conveying all the complexities of the story, character and dilemmas for all involved is down to the authorial voice used by Duncker. At times it's a straight narrator, at times an encyclopaedia, a quoter from the Bible, a provider of internal monologue samples. Commonly people are called after their job or status and not their name.

The book could easily read like a thriller, and an intriguing one, although there are elements of the ending we can see coming a mile away. It still escapes many genre considerations, as it goes from obscure cultish books in unexplained codes, and the hunt for truths about them, to the judge's life and how she feels when people she grew up with are dragged into proceedings.

It has an amenable spread of locations, from the mountains to old German cities, and all come across well. What I found very awkward to begin with was the Franglais used by characters – the speech quotes would begin in French, then either be translated or added to in English. We were there already without the bilingual 'assist'.

Also perhaps slightly questionable is the translation when we get it of the cult's scripture, as it lumps 9/11 and the Boxing Day Tsunami on us – it's almost as if this is the only reason for setting this story in 2000 after all. But it's the pettiest of quibbles. In snowy or sunny setting this book read well, and I thoroughly enjoyed our heroine. I would certainly recommend this as a mystical read, a look at unusual circumstances for an intriguing few hours' entertainment, and for a thriller fan a very literary approach to what could so easily be genre clichés.

I must thank the kind people at Bloomsbury for my review copy.

Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel is another rural French mystery well worth wallowing in.

Buy The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge by Patricia Duncker at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge by Patricia Duncker at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge by Patricia Duncker at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge by Patricia Duncker at Amazon.com.

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