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Book reviews >

Who is the hunter, who the hunted?

Peter Anthony enjoys a study in ambiguity on many levels

The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge
Patricia Duncker
Bloomsbury £11.99
Church Times Bookshop £10.80

IT TAKES a while to work out what sort of novel this is. At first it feels like not much more than a slightly higher-brow Dan Brown spin-off. Soon, however, it becomes clear that it is a much more sophisticated literary offering than that.

The plot revolves around Domin­ique Carpentier, a French investigat­ing judge who specialises in fraud committed by secretive cults. Called to the crime scene of a mass suicide, she discovers a book containing hidden codes and astrological secrets, clearly the sacred text of a sect called “the Faith”. Involved is an enigmatic composer, Friedrich Grosz, a mesmerising, diabolical figure clearly at the centre of the mystery. Dominique must work out what this sinister group is, and pre­vent the next collective suicide.

This is not just a racy airport detective novel. It turns out to be a study in ambiguity on many levels. The reader’s starts off in sympathy with Dominique, intelligent, ten­acious representative of the law. But, as the narrative progresses, we in­creasingly see the flaws in her char­acter: her workaholic, emotion­ally wrung-out attitude to life; her heart­less attitude to men, whom she exploits and manipulates through casual sex.

In contrast, Grosz’s insistence on life and beauty beyond the here and now seems more and more seductive. Dominique finds herself falling under the spell of the man she is investigating, as roles are reversed and the plot reaches its denoue­ment.

It is an engaging read, and my only slight disappointment was the reasonably predictable, and some­what pedestrian, ending. One is left wondering whether the whole idea of detective novels centred on apoca­lyptic cults and conspiracies doesn’t feel just a bit old hat in a post-Dan Brown world. A good yarn, none the less.

The Revd Peter Anthony is Junior Dean at St Stephen’s House, Oxford.

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