The book opens with three hunters looking down on a clearing on New Year’s Day.  “Nine adults…stretched out upon their backs, settled into a sedate, reclining curve.  Their elbows were bent back, their hands raised, palms facing upward….” At their feet, warmly dressed and swaddled, are the bodies of their children.  Sixteen people dead, only one violently.

Commissaire Andre Schweigen is the police representative in charge of the investigation.  Six years earlier,  the same scene had been set in Switzerland, the difference being that in Switzerland the body count was much higher.  There sixty-nine people had been found in the semi-circle, one killed violently.  Schweigen sends for Dominique Carpentier, the investigative judge known as the “sect hunter”.  They had been called to Switzerland because some of the people who had participated in “the departure” had been French citizens but the Swiss had not wanted to proceed with an investigation, so Dominique and Andre had been left with questions and no way in which to get answers.

Now, with the crime on French soil, they can pursue the case and make the connections between the two events.  In Switzerland, sixty-eight people had died by poisoning, one had been shot in the head.  In France, fifteen had died by poisoning, one had been shot in the head.  No gun was found at either scene.  Someone had watched people die and then ended the life of one.  In Switzerland, the last to die was Anton Laval.  In France, the last to die was Marie-Cecile Laval, his sister, and Dominique’s best friend from childhood.

Dominique’s reputation was built on her determination and her success in ferreting out pseudo-religious sects that prey on the desperate,  the lonely, the religious, and the rich.  As the authorities examine the house in which the newly dead had been living, there are signs of celebration: Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, gifts, and the things associated with the mid-night celebration of the New Year.  Yet, just after that moment, nine adults had willingly died and had taken their children with them.

As Andre and Dominique search through the house, they find a book, old judging by the paper on which is printed, written in  a strange language, like Hebrew, but not a language anyone recognizes.  There are prayers and poems and a celestial map.  Astronomy has been a part of many religions through time and the “Faith” seems to incorporate elements of the monotheistic religions and some incantations of the Egyptians as well.  The book is clearly one of a kind and the name of the owner is written in very small script,not meant to be easily seen.  The book belongs to Friedrich Grosz, the world famous composer and conductor.

The investigation leads Dominique back to her childhood and the time spent at Domain Laval, a winery of some distinction.  It also leads her to Grosz, a larger than life character of formidable charisma.  Andre is in love with Dominique, his partner in a long relationship,  and, soon, Grosz will be his rival for the love of the judge who is drawn to the Composer but unsettled by his intensity.

THE STRANGE CASE OF THE COMPOSER AND HIS JUDGE has been described as a “metaphysical mystery”.  Dominique’s job as a judge in the French legal system is not to weigh evidence but to find it so it can be passed on to those who decide who is prosecuted and who is not.  In that sense, the story is metaphysical.  Dominique has to examine the nature of the reality that drove the members of the Faith to choose departure for themselves and their children so that they may become immortal.  But the Faith and the deaths are also tied to reality of fact.  Has there been financial chicanery, enticing those ready to depart to bestow their assets on the Faith?  Has someone committed murder from a distance?

The book has the requirements to be considered an exercise in metaphysics but it doesn’t meet the requirements of mystery.  The book ends in the only way it can and the author makes no attempt to divert the reader onto a less obvious path.   The book is an examination of the philosophies that form personality and intellect, a mystery of sorts, but not a mystery in the conventional sense.

So, why keep reading?  THE STRANGE CASE OF THE COMPOSER AND HIS JUDGE is the most beautiful and evocative use of language since THE SHADOW OF THE WIND.

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  1. Pingback: AUTHORS A – D ( A Good Place To Start) | MURDER by TYPE

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