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3.8 out of 5 stars16
3.8 out of 5 stars
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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. An informer with a steel nose, a man half eaten by a lion in the Tower, a goldsmith smuggling silver to France, and real characters, such as the vulgar Daniel Defoe and the likeable Samuel Pepys, keep the reader constantly engaged.
The author cleverly and unobtrusively provides several recaps of the action and what it means within the context of the narrative, just at the point when the story may become a bit confusing, clearly remembering that the reader may be unfamiliar with this period and its history. He does burden his story with a large number of characters who appear only briefly and provide scant information, but this is a minor quibble in this ambitious and entertaining novel of enormous scope and historical perspective. Mary Whipple
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VINE VOICEon 25 April 2007
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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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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on 19 August 2007
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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HALL OF FAMEon 19 October 2002
"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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on 4 March 2013
I was aware of this book for some time before purchasing it as at first I thought this was a non fiction book. It is an excellent novel based on fact and has similarities in theme to Umberto Ecos 'Name of the Rose'. I am a big fan of Philips Bernie gunter series and this is of similar high standard. The copy I bought is an American import and it is inexplicable as to why this book has not been published in the Uk as it was published in 2002. This is a similar to Kerr's also excellent 'Hitler's Peace' published in 2005 which has again still to be published in the UK and could be initially be mistaken for a non fiction book but is a blend of fact and fiction.
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on 11 February 2013
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
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on 23 September 2013
Written in the 1st person like his Bernie Gunter novels.
Use of pseudo-Old English needs a few pages to get used to.
Interesting concept making Isaac Newton a sleuth.
Robust language and adult themes as expected from Kerr, but not convinced these are necessary.
I'm a fan of Kerr and enjoyed the book, but it's not his best.
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Being an avid fan of Kerr's Berlin Noir novels, I was intrigued to see what he could do with Isaac Newton. Taking Newton's employment as the Warden of the Royal Mint as his starting point, Kerr weaves an elaborate mystery, that takes in religion, coin clipping, and alchemy. Though the period is evocatively captured, and well researched, the novel as a whole is rather dry.

Missing, of course, is Bernie Gunther's sardonic wise-cracks and one-liners, which make the Noir novels such a joy to read. Though 'Dark Matter' contains some humour, the narrator's voice is not as convincing as Bernie's. The tale is told by 'Christopher Ellis' , Newton's his assistant, and part-time bodyguard. Those who enjoyed Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle will probably enjoy this too. Though 'Dark Matter' does not have the scope of Stephenson's epic masterpiece, the two novels cover some of the same ground. The mystery at the centre of 'Dark Matter' is a good one, with enough twists and turns to keep most readers happy. Unfortunately, there isn't much in the way of drama. There is little pace about the narrative, and it turns into a procession from one body to the next.

So whilst I enjoyed this book overall, I would it with caution. If you enjoy codes, and alchemical esoterica, then give it a whirl. Similarly if you like Kerr's attention to detail, and authentic brand of historical fiction, you will find much to admire. If you are after fast action, and wise-cracks then stick with Bernie...
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on 16 June 2013
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.
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