Review: The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge

“The bodies were found early in the afternoon of New Year’s Day. “

The bodies are discovered in a forest in France, adults and children in pyjamas are laid out in a semi-circle. This is not a murder scene but the mass-suicide of members of a sect only known as the Faith. This ‘departure’ calls commissaire André Schweigen and judge Dominique Carpentier to the scene, and they have seen this kind of thing before in Switzerland. Schweigen is explosive, angry and in love; the judge values rationality above all else. But she is “la chasseuse de sectes”, and investigating the Faith leads her on a journey that will disturb her equilibrium.

The problem with the Faith is that its members are all part of the elite, scientific and artistic. They are all successful, intelligent and no-one would have expected them to be members of a sect, let alone a suicide cult. In the judge’s investigation everything leads back to the composer, Friedrich Grosz.

The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge is a mystery and even a thriller, but it is often metaphysical and slow-paced. Duncker focuses on philosophical questions, and the relationship between the composer and his judge, between passio et ratio is the core of this book. This novel is by no means boring, in fact it is rather tightly plotted, however you have to be interested in Duncker’s forays into the mystic, apocalyptic (the millennium looms large here) and occult.

This novel requires you to suspend your disbelief at times, but what you get in return is a contemplation on the genre, an intellectual game and the fine arts. It also reads best curled up with strong coffee and dark chocolate.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

15 thoughts on “Review: The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge

        1. Goodness, you ask questions… 😀 I wouldn’t really say that there are marked similarities. Both work with theory, literary or otherwise, and present you with “intellectual appetizers” but their style is quite different. Thomas’ is more cult and Duncker is more, I don’t kow, clean chique intellectual, more influenced by French culture and theory.

          1. Thanks a lot for the reply. 🙂 I have read the book now and I have discovered two further similarities: “PopCo” and “The Strange Case…” both include codes to be cracked, which is a feature that makes me almost automatically love a book.
            And I think both authors are exceptionally good at creating atmospheres. I loved the fact that Duncker included so many French expressions… never mind if you understand them all or not (I understood most though not all), they just give you the feeling of being in France.
            And you are so right about the intellectual appetizers… now I want to know where the next observatory is. A wonderful book.

            OT: I am going to print your chapter at work today and I will hopefully be quick at reading it.

  1. Wonderful review, Bina! This sounds like a fascinating book! I liked very much your observation – “the relationship between the composer and his judge, between passio et ratio is the core of this book”. You normally recommend reading a book with a cup of tea. So this time I was surprised that your recommendation is strong coffee and dark chocolate. This book must be interesting 🙂

  2. Well I was originally drawn to this because of the cover in your wrap up post for last month. Now I’ve read your review I’m even more intrigued, may have to keep my eyes peeled for a copy of this in the library.

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