The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge
by Patricia Duncker

Bloomsbury, 2010. ISBN 978-1-608-19203-8.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 10/12/2010

Fiction: Literary

This is a stunning novel featuring a rational woman judge and a visionary male composer who come together as she investigates the "departure" of nine adults and seven children on Christmas Day. All of the adults belonged to the Faith. Judge Dominique Carpentier, a highly regarded investigator of sects, and the Commissaire, Andre Schweigen, gather information which leads them to Friedrich Grosz, the world-renowned composer in Lubeck, Germany. The Composer and the Judge discover strange connections both in whom they know and a mysterious book using astronomical symbols written in an unknown language.

She studies the book along with related texts. "Had the Judge scented something rich and strange in this fabulous emptiness [of the universe]? She puzzled for hours over the books and patterns. The stars glittered with their own immortality, a gift from the loving gods. Mortal lives were inscribed in the heavens, transformed into fragments of eternity by the immortals, who had been forced through extraordinary circumstances, to turn their eyes earthwards and remember how to love."

The beauty of the writing and the story itself engrossed me even as I reluctantly neared the inevitable end. Duncker creates not only highly developed main characters but gives dimension to others necessary to the plot as well. The reader feels a connection to and sympathy for them all. Sensitive and intelligent.

Patricia Duncker is the author of several novels, including Hallucinating Foucault, winner of the Dillons First Fiction Award and the McKitterick Prize. She is a Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of Manchester.

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