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Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton: A Novel [Hardcover]

Philip Kerr
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct 2002
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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Publishers; 1st edition (Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609609815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609609811
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.4 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 740,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Kerr was born in Edinburgh in 1956 and read Law at university. Having learned nothing as an undergraduate lawyer he stayed on as postgraduate and read Law and Philosophy, most of this German, which was when and where he first became interested in German twentieth century history and, in particular, the Nazis. Following university he worked as a copywriter at a number of advertising agencies, including Saatchi & Saatchi, during which time he wrote no advertising slogans of any note. He spent most of his time in advertising researching an idea he'd had for a novel about a Berlin-based policeman, in 1936. And following several trips to Germany - and a great deal of walking around the mean streets of Berlin - his first novel, March Violets, was published in 1989 and introduced the world to Bernie Gunther.
"I loved Berlin before the wall came down; I'm pretty fond of the place now, but back then it was perhaps the most atmospheric city on earth. Having a dark, not to say black sense of humour myself, it's always been somewhere I feel very comfortable."
Having left advertising behind, Kerr worked for the London Evening Standard and produced two more novels featuring Bernie Gunther: The Pale Criminal (1990) and A German Requiem (1991). These were published as an omnibus edition, Berlin Noir in 1992.
Thinking he might like to write something else, he did and published a host of other novels before returning to Bernie Gunther after a gap of sixteen years, with The One from the Other (2007).
Says Kerr, "I never intended to leave such a large gap between Book 3 and Book 4; a lot of other stuff just got in the way; and I feel kind of lucky that people are still as interested in this guy as I am. If anything I'm more interested in him now than I was back in the day."
Two more novels followed, A Quiet Flame (2008) and If the Dead Rise Not (2009).
Field Gray (2010) is perhaps his most ambitious novel yet that features Bernie Gunther. Crossing a span of more than twenty years, it takes Bernie from Cuba, to New York, to Landsberg Prison in Germany where he vividly describes a story that covers his time in Paris, Toulouse, Minsk, Konigsberg, and his life as a German POW in Soviet Russia.
Kerr is already working on an eighth title in the series.
"I don't know how long I can keep doing them; I'll probably write one too many; but I don't feel that's happened yet."
As P.B.Kerr Kerr is also the author of the popular 'Children of the Lamp' series.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific period mystery. 27 Jan 2003
A mystery which should keep even the most jaded reader intrigued and involved, Dark Matter begins like a typical Sherlock Holmes mystery, with Sir Isaac Newton interviewing Christopher Ellis to work as his assistant as Warden of the Royal Mint, and deducing all manner of personal information from clues he notices on Ellis's person.
But here the similarities end. The murders which Newton and Ellis soon investigate are part of a much broader picture of intrigue than anything in the Sherlock Holmes series, here involving the recoinage of England's silver and gold, battles against smugglers and counterfeiters, the enmity and warfare between England and France, the continuing hatred between Catholics and Protestants in both countries, the missing treasure of the Knights Templar, and alchemy, astronomy, scientific study, and even the ciphers developed a hundred years earlier by Rene Descartes.
Newton remains throughout the novel as a somewhat mysterious character, formal, scholarly, honest, and industrious, but personally remote, even from his niece, with whom he lives. Ellis, on the other hand, quickly engages the reader with his innate charm and physicality--he's an ebullient 20-year-old, as much at home in bars and brothels as he is in the lab or the Mint.
As this surprisingly compatible team investigates several grotesquely staged murders, while battling the political status quo at the Tower of London, where the Mint is located, the reader is taken on a wide-ranging and colorful tour of the city from its royal houses to its bawdy houses, its churches to its opium dens, and its bookshops to its prisons.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant period piece, with a Sherlock Holmes feel 25 April 2007
By Andrew Johnston VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It is historical fact that Sir Isaac Newton held senior positions at the royal mint from the late 1690s, and with his assistant Christopher Ellis he was involved in detecting and prosecuting numerous offences during a turbulent period in which Britain replaced its money.

Philip Kerr has taken this Newton and his assistant, and turned them into Holmes and Watson, placing them at the centre of a serious intrigue involving financial crimes, political battles and religious atrocities.

It's a brilliant period piece which explains a great deal I didn't understand about Restoration Europe. Like his other historical novels Kerr has also carefully used the language of the time, writing in a style reminiscent of Newton's contemporaries such as Pepys, but always readily understandable.

Some of the period detail is quite gruesome, and can be little uncomfortable. This is not a book for the young or seriously squeamish. However the content is appropriate given the quite dark nature of the story.

I haven't enjoyed all of Kerr's more recent works. For example "The Shot", which was a similar kind of period piece, was just too complicated. I have no such complaints about "Dark Matter" - a brilliant historical thriller.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strange book 19 Aug 2007
By Didier TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I honestly don't really know what to think of this book. One would say that it has all the necessary ingredients of a great read: an original premise in Isaac Newton (who really did work for the Royal Mint) stumbling on a plot of counterfeiters with links to alchemy, Huguenots, and even the Templars. The tale is told by his assistant Christopher Ellis 30 years later after Newton has died.

And yet, and yet... somehow this story never really gripped me as I expected it to. Is it because of the language? Maybe so, because I found it to be written almost as if it wasn't only about Newton but also BY Newton, with everything described in a very detached, almost scientific way which doesn't help to get one involved in the story.

So however eagerly I read the book (somehow always expecting it to start living up to my expectations) I finished it with mixed feelings (because it never really did).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Historical Thriller 11 Nov 2010
By Mrs. K. A. Wheatley TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Someone recommended Philip Kerr to me for his Bernie Gunther series set in Berlin, which I have yet to read, but based on my enjoyment of this, a standalone novel about Sir Isaac Newton and his time at the Royal Mint, I shall be reading a lot more of Kerr.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable, historical thriller, well researched, well written and full of wonderful twists, turns and macabre little touches that keep you guessing right up until the end. Set in the reign of William of Orange it deals with Newton's appointment to the mint during the recoinage of the monetary system. Initially about the forging of golden sovereigns the plot soon thickens to involve religious controversy, political unrest and alchemy. Set within the bounds of the Tower of London this is a story rich in fascinating historical detail, folklore, mythology and what can probably be called, local colour.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What Do You Know of Newton 19 Oct 2002
By taking a rest HALL OF FAME
"Dark Matter", by Philip Kerr is primarily based upon the person of Sir Isaac Newton, and includes moments with the likes of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Pepys, and Christopher Ellis, all of who lived during late 17th Century London. The book is well written and if the final twenty pages were representative of the entire book, it would have been brilliant.
Sir Newton is hardly a historical enigma, so why Mr. Kerr chose to portray him as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character Sherlock Holmes is not only a mystery, it makes little sense. For the Sir Newton of this historical novel bears little resemblance to the Newton that history has recorded and many biographers have documented. And Christopher Wallis bears even less resemblance to the famous Dr. Watson. The novel did not need to lean so heavily upon these other characters to work, and I have no idea why an author of Kerr's talent decided to use them.
The background players that give the story its excellent ending are The Knights Templar, and I kept hoping they would play a larger role in the book, for they essentially were the consummation at the book's close. For when the book collects itself and defines itself, it is Christianity and the faith that upholds it that are the real story in this novel. The Knights were a fascinating historical group and they deserved more prominence in the tale.
I enjoyed the book but only to a point as I have read biographies of Sir Newton. Kerr's portrayal is so far from the historical personage that it was hard to forget who the real man was, and accept this version of Newton as super sleuth. Newton was a brilliant detective of matters scientific; portraying him as a 17th Century Holmes was too derivative and unworthy of the stature of Sir Newton.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars My criticism of this book is personal to me.
I first saw mention of this book on UTube and it was unclear it was a work of fiction added to which is the somewhat misleading title `Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac... Read more
Published 5 months ago by reliant
4.0 out of 5 stars Different!
Written in the 1st person like his Bernie Gunter novels.
Use of pseudo-Old English needs a few pages to get used to. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Michael Grffin
3.0 out of 5 stars not up to his usual thriller
I'm a big fan of the Bernie Gunther series, my favourite books. This on the other hand doesn't come close. Though it has some interesting historical facts and surprises.
Published 14 months ago by sue
3.0 out of 5 stars Glen Tochas on Isaac Newton
Phillip Kerr has written some excellent books, this one is just about o.k. If you don't know much about Newton before you read this, you'll know only a little bit more when you... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Glen Tochas
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical novel strangely unpublished in UK
I was aware of this book for some time before purchasing it as at first I thought this was a non fiction book. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Chris Milligan
4.0 out of 5 stars good
Very good book, especislly if you like crime books. Like Agatha christie climat.i read this book in just 2 days . Nice paper in book. Even hard cover is not so nessesery
Published 18 months ago by roma
3.0 out of 5 stars Newton's Law
Being an avid fan of Kerr's Berlin Noir novels, I was intrigued to see what he could do with Isaac Newton. Read more
Published on 16 Feb 2011 by Quicksilver
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