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The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge: A Novel (2010)

by Patricia Duncker

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1.48
  johnrid11 | Feb 14, 2016 |
The strange case of the composer and his judge is a enigmatic novel, which can be read at different levels. Superficially, the novel is written as a detective story in which a judge, Dominique Carpentier, investigates a murder mystery, consisting of group murders of members belonging to a religious sect. Obviously, this level is not the main level of interpretation of this type of literary fiction. While the plot shares characteristics with the detective novel, most detective novels are better written than this.

However, the levels or layers of meaning below the surface level are obscure and opaque. While at the level of detection, Dominique's actions are governed my her superior intellect, a rational approach to whatever is hidden below the surface will not do.

The murder mystery, or who-dunnit, is but a relatively simple mystery. The true mysteries are those of religious belief and the mysteries of the heart. Here the rational mind is of little or no use, mystery is the realm of intuition.

The religious sect Dominique investigates is a quasi-rational mystery, which seems based on predestination. The fate of its members is written in the stars, which can be read and interpreted, but fate cannot be escaped. When the spiritual leader of the sect finds Dominique Carpentier on his path, he chooses to embrace her rather than resist, as if it is fate that she would be on (or in) his way.

The mysteries of the heart form another enigma which hovers throughout the novel. Dominique Carpentier appears to the reader as a single woman, of middle-age. Her colleague, Andre Schweigen, adores her, but never says so (his surname means "remain silent"). The leader of the religious sect, Friedrich Grosz, (his name means "the great") tries to embrace her, and pull her into his sphere. However, apparently, Dominique, seems much too rational to give into these feeling. She cannot let herself go with these men.

The religious sect is a closely-knit community. The group murders are each time performed in a circle, the symbol of community. By a turn of fate, the former leader of the sect, appears to be a woman from Dominique's hometown, from a family with whom Dominique spent many happy times in her youth. In fact, the closest Dominique has ever come to affection, are her, apparently lesbian feelings for the daughter of that family, with whom, and none other, she would dance in community gatherings. Thus, the circle being being nearly full round, Grosz sees his task on earth fulfilled and alights.

The novels rather enigmatic title, The strange case of the composer and his judge suggests a polarity, where in fact no opposition exists. Rather, than the choice of a definite article "the", the choice of the personal pronoun "his" suggests a close personal tie between the composer and the judge, a tie of two forces, shaped like a diabolo.

While a murder mystery can be solved, readers will have to accept that for matters of the heart, no such simple solutions exist. The novel, therefore, does not offer complete fulfillment. ( )
2 vote edwinbcn | Jun 30, 2013 |
If someone had asked me to give a rating after the first half of the novel, it would have been 4 stars, but after I finished it I can only give it 2. Maybe I was a bit misled by the description of it. I thought to begin with that I read a crime novel - but it turned out I did not.

I loved the beginning - mystic, horrifying, sad and promising. I enjoyed the language, the french and european in it. The characters is ok - but no more.

I have no problems with religious or metaphysical mumbo jumbo in a novel as long as it is well written and "credible" in the context. In this novel however it just became silly. ( )
  Amsa1959 | Aug 26, 2012 |
Most of us remember the Doomsday cults of the 1990s and this cover blurb will attract anyone fascinated by the Branch Dravidians or the Heaven’s Gate crowd: a group of hunters come across of semi-circle of corpses laid out neatly in snowy mountains, members of a mysterious suicide cult.

The cultists belong to a sect known only as The Faith, and parallels with the Order of the Solar Temple are obvious, even down to the leader being a musician, the Western European setting and the astronomical connections.

The book has a promising premise, a confusing beginning, and from then its all downhill as the reader flounders in Duncker’s prose, as densely unreadable as a pedantic mid-Victorian translation – suffocating, but with moments of brilliance. And oh Goodness, why og why does everyone fall in love with the insufferably smug Judge? men and women, young and old, are inexplicably drawn to her! ( )
  adpaton | Sep 19, 2011 |
I am left with mixed feelings about this book. It didn't deliver what I expected, but I didn't dislike it. Some elements of the story were distracting, while others were enjoyable.

The first few chapters were quite compelling, as were the last two or three, but the long middle section dragged out what could have been accomplished more succinctly. Perhaps I don't appreciate the nuance of the story, but I felt it lacked the charm and urgency I typically seek in a mystery. I appreciate that the story is more literary than straight genre fiction, but I would argue that the main character's transformation is still too subtle for the length of the book - so this doesn't totally work for me as either a piece of literary fiction or as a mystery.

The highest compliment I can give this book is that the situations and characters are unique, and not at all predictable. If you're interested in religious cults and foreign mystery, I recommend this book. ( )
1 vote sarah-e | May 10, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Though the author's characters never quite come to life, being more tics and mannerisms than people, there is enough of the exotic to them and to their circumstances to hold the reader's attention.
added by bell7 | editBooklist, Michael Cart
 
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The bodies were found early in the afternoon of New Year's Day.
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Book description
The bodies are discovered on New Year’s Day: sixteen dead in the freshly fallen snow. The adults lie stiff in a semicircle; the children in pajamas and overcoats, are curled at their feet.
When he gets the report, Commissaire Andre Schweigen knows just who to call: Judge Dominique Carpentier, also known as the “sect hunter”. She is the recognized expert in this field, brilliant and relentlessly rational, but Schweigen has his own reasons for wanting her on his case. In the vacated chalet, theinvestigators uncover an encoded book of celestial maps that points them to the inhospitable doorstep of a composer, Friedrich Grosz. But as the skeptical sect hunter earns the Composer’s trust, she finds herself drawn into a world of complex family ties and ancient cosmic beliefs, unable – and increasingly unwilling – to escape.
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On a frozen New Year's Day a half-circle of dead bodies lies on freshly fallen snow in the French Jura. A nearby chalet contains the debris of a seemingly ordinary Christmas: champagne, presents for the dead children, and a strange leather-bound book, written in mysterious code, containing maps of the stars. When Dominique Carpentier, the Judge tasked with solving the mystery behind this suicide sect, discovers the book, she is lead to the Composer, Friedrich Groz, who is connected to every one of the dead. And so the pursuit begins. As Carpentier is drawn into a world of complex family ties, ancient beliefs and seductive, disturbing music, she becomes more and more determined to crack the case. But has she met her match in the Composer?… (more)

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