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Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac…
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Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton (2002)

by Philip Kerr

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Dark Matter is the lastest masterwork of suspense from Philip Kerr, the internationally bestselling and brilliantly innovative thriller writer who has dazzled readers with his imaginative, fast-paced novels. Like An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Name of the Rose, and Kerr’s own Berlin Noir trilogy, Dark Matter is historical mystery at its finest, an extraordinary, suspense-filled journey through the shadowy streets and back alleys of London with the brilliant Newton and his faithful protégé. The haunted Tower with its bloody history is the perfect backdrop for this richly satisfying tale, one that introduces an engrossing mystery into the volatile mix of politics, science, and religion that characterized life in seventeenth-century London. ( )
  MarkBeronte | Jan 9, 2014 |
A pretty solid historical mystery. Bit long on romance & sex scenes, a bit short on historical context, but generally well-done. One of Kerr's best non-Gunther outings. ( )
  ehines | May 27, 2012 |
Got all excited about this other discussion and forgot to write about the book I just finished [Dark Matter] by [[Phillip Kerr]] -- one of the newish genre of 'historical mysteries' -- this time featuring Sir Isaac Newton in his role as Warden of the Mint in the late 1600's. Murders, ciphers, alchemists, counterfeitin, Templars and other pleasures (and vices) await the reader. It's a lot of fun and nicely done. I can't help, as always, but wonder where the line between research and fancy is drawn (did Isaac Newton really have an office cat named Melchior?) but other tidbits I do seem to remember from other sources -- that he would fall into a kind of trance state, for example, when chewing over a problem. There is violence, but I would have to characterize it as being 'appropriate to the time and place' -- people 'enjoyed' witnessing horrible things being done to the condemned and there was a bluntness about sexual matters as well, just be advised. I'm hovering between four and four 1/2 so I'll give it ****1/4! My husband LOVED it, so if you have a mystery/mathy/bit o'history guy reader to buy a present for, this is a good bet. ( )
  sibyx | Dec 14, 2011 |
interesting, mystery ( )
  CynthiaScott | Jan 27, 2010 |
Phillip Kerr is better known for his Bernie Gunther detective stories especially his Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem trilogy, but I found Dark Matter to be a thoroughly enjoyable dip into the historical detective genre. Kerr uses Sir Isaac Newton's appointment as Warden of the Royal Mint in 1696 as the takeoff point for a murder mystery that involves the pursuit of counterfeiters and a more serious conspiracy to foment an English Protestant version of the St. Bartholomew's Massacre.

Kerr employs many historical characters and scenes. His narrator is Newton's real-life assistant Christopher Ellis. The seemingly inevitable and overused comparison of any detective duo to Holmes and Watson has some merit here. Newton is the idiosyncratic genius and Ellis is the useful aide de snoop (Although it is hard to imagine Watson doing what Ellis does with Newton's niece.).

The Mint is located at the Tower of London and Kerr gives nice description of the Tower's layout in that day as well as the tensions dividing the Royal Mint and the Royal Armoury. Newton and Ellis traverse London's seedier spots such as Newgate Prison, Bedlam, and assorted knocking shops (complete with opium den). The reader meets a number of fascinating historical characters. To name a few: a slippery Daniel Defoe; Cambridge professor, mathematician, and cryptographer John Wallis; the famous diarist Samuel Pepys, and Titus Oates, fabricator of the historical `Popish plot' and freed by a royal pardon, returns in the novel to gin up more anti-Catholic hysteria.

Kerr also examines Newton's anti-Trinitarian Arian religious views, which nearly land him in very deep water (in the novel as well as in real life). Newton's scientific interest in alchemy assists him in uncovering `coiners' as he pursues his duties during the Great Recoinage (the government's attempt to stabilize and normalize the currency).

Pursuing what appear to be four murders related to the Mint, Newton uses his skill and intense labor as a cryptographer to discover that not one, but rather two criminal enterprises are at work. While both crimes are solved, I particularly appreciated the way Kerr wove actual events into his in depiction of the disparate fates of the well-connected and the ordinary criminal. For example, Titus Oates really did receive an unexplained boost in his royal pension from 5 Pounds per annum to 500 Pounds!

Unlike some historical fiction which use a well-known historical event simply as a jumping off point for a routine detective story, Dark Matter makes good use of both large events and historical details, characters colorful and compelling, and a sense of time and place to create a superior historical detective story. In the end, however, Kerr falls short of a five-star effort because he puts too many objects in motion. Perhaps Kerr's momentum could have been better conserved with a little more focus gravity of his subject.

Readers may also be interested in a 2009 work of nonfiction, Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist by Thomas Levenson. ( )
  dougwood57 | Dec 22, 2009 |
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Bertolucci, EnnioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0609609815, Hardcover)

I swore not to tell this story while Newton was still alive.

1696, young Christopher Ellis is sent to the Tower of London, but not as a prisoner. Though Ellis is notoriously hotheaded and was caught fighting an illegal duel, he arrives at the Tower as assistant to the renowned scientist Sir Isaac Newton. Newton is Warden of the Royal Mint, which resides within the Tower walls, and he has accepted an appointment from the King of England and Parliament to investigate and prosecute counterfeiters whose false coins threaten to bring down the shaky, war-weakened economy. Ellis may lack Newton’s scholarly mind, but he is quick with a pistol and proves himself to be an invaluable sidekick and devoted apprentice to Newton as they zealously pursue these criminals.

While Newton and Ellis investigate a counterfeiting ring, they come upon a mysterious coded message on the body of a man killed in the Lion Tower, as well as alchemical symbols that indicate this was more than just a random murder. Despite Newton’s formidable intellect, he is unable to decipher the cryptic message or any of the others he and Ellis find as the body count increases within the Tower complex. As they are drawn into a wild pursuit of the counterfeiters that takes them from the madhouse of Bedlam to the squalid confines of Newgate prison and back to the Tower itself, Newton and Ellis discover that the counterfeiting is only a small part of a larger, more dangerous plot, one that reaches to the highest echelons of power and nobility and threatens much more than the collapse of the economy.

Dark Matter is the lastest masterwork of suspense from Philip Kerr, the internationally bestselling and brilliantly innovative thriller writer who has dazzled readers with his imaginative, fast-paced novels. Like An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Name of the Rose, and Kerr’s own Berlin Noir trilogy, Dark Matter is historical mystery at its finest, an extraordinary, suspense-filled journey through the shadowy streets and back alleys of London with the brilliant Newton and his faithful protégé. The haunted Tower with its bloody history is the perfect backdrop for this richly satisfying tale, one that introduces an engrossing mystery into the volatile mix of politics, science, and religion that characterized life in seventeenth-century London.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:04 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"In 1696, young Christopher Ellis is sent to the Tower of London, but not as a prisoner. Though Ellis is notoriously hotheaded and was caught fighting an illegal duel, he arrives at the Tower as assistant to the renowned scientist Sir Isaac Newton. Newton is Warden of the Royal Mint, which resides within the Tower walls, and he has accepted an appointment from the King of England and Parliament to investigate and prosecute counterfeiters whose false coins threaten to bring down the shaky, war-weakened economy. Ellis may lack Newton's scholarly mind, but he is quick with a pistol and proves himself to be an invaluable sidekick and devoted apprentice to Newton as they zealously pursue these criminals.". "While Newton and Ellis investigate a counterfeiting ring, they come upon a mysterious coded message on the body of a man killed in the Lion Tower, as well as alchemical symbols that indicate this was more than just a random murder. Despite Newton's formidable intellect, he is unable to decipher the cryptic message or any of the others he and Ellis find as the body count increases within the Tower complex. As they are drawn into a wild pursuit of the counterfeiters that takes them from the madhouse of Bedlam to the squalid confines of Newgate prison and back to the Tower itself, Newton and Ellis discover that the counterfeiting is only a small part of a larger, more dangerous plot, one that reaches to the highest echelons of power and nobility and threatens much more than the collapse of the economy."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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