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The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge Paperback – 1 Mar 2010

3.7 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (1 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408804174
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408804179
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.2 x 23.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,351,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'One of the best novels of its year ... It is a thriller, a romance and a critique of dryness ... Ever since I read it, I have been encouraging everyone else to do so' A.S. Byatt (on Hallucinating Foucault) 'Every bit as good as her debut, Hallucinating Foucault, which is saying a good deal ... Penetrating and sparkling' Philip Hensher (on Monsieur Shoushana's Lemon Trees) 'Patricia Duncker should be made a DBE, elected to the Academie Francaise and have a statue erected in the main square of her home town' Louis de Bernieres (on James Miranda Barry)

Book Description

The thrilling tale of a secret suicide sect and the musical mastermind at its center.

Shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger, the Best Crime Novel of the Year
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I'm a great fan of Patricia Duncker's writing, but hadn't really enjoyed her last two novels - Miss Webster and Cherif was fun but didn't have as much depth as her earlier work. The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge is definitely a return to form - and to the eerie, gripping exploration of personality, power and relationships that characterises Duncker's earlier novels.

The novel starts with an atmospheric crime scene - in the snowy forest near a chalet, a group of bodies is found, arranged in a mysterious pattern. The investigating judge, Dominique, is nicknamed 'la chasseuse des sectes' - she's an expert investigator of cults. But the judge's certainty in the rightness of her quest to prosecute the mysterious organisation known only as 'The Faith' is shaken when she meets the Composer. His charisma more than matches her own, and the two opponents are thrown into a curious match of wits where they discover a strong mutual attraction. The battle plays out among the surroundings of the Judge's childhood, where she discovers that all is not as it seems. Added to the mix is the faithful (but not to his wife!) Andre, Dominique's strong-willed and passionate German counterpart, with whom she's been having an affair for several years. But which man will she choose? And will the Judge come down on the side of the law or 'the Faith'?

I liked the occasional bit of French or German language that was thrown in - it gave the book a sense of atmosphere as the characters moved between Switzerland and France. But I did wonder whether readers who aren't able to make sense of it might find it irritating - not sure, but thought it was worth mentioning.
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Format: Paperback
This novel starts with an amazing description of a group of bodies in the snow, a mass suicide by a cult, and opens up to explore all kinds of idea about belief, without ever losing the pace of the story. The judge has specialised in investigating cults, with very little sympathy for the people who get caught up in them, but this faith is shaped by and for very influencial people, and when she meets the passionate figure of the compuser it starts to affect her as well - and I really didn't know how the book would end. It's about the power of faith but also of attraction between people and how both can absorb you and change your behaviour and choices.

It's quite different from Duncker's previous novel, very unsettling and I don't feel I'm doing justice to all the layers in it, but I'd heartily recommend it. I found the judge herself particularly involving and I was willing her on to stay true to herself.
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Format: Paperback
I came to this novel full of hope and expectation - a book about cults and suspicious deaths should be gripping. However, I found it to be a strangely uncompelling book, which got bogged down in the Judge's implausible relationships, and neglected to develop the plot. I'm still mystified by the ending (which was disappointingly dull) and what was the sound Dominique heard in the garden? All in all I'd have preferred a bit more action!
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Format: Paperback
On New Year's Day of the new millennium, a group of bodies is found in the snow, echoing an earlier group suicide by members of the Faith. The local police detective, Schweigen, is reuinited with an old flame (the Judge of the title) to solve the mystery. When a curious book of undecipherable symbols is discovered near the scene of the crime, the Judge is led to the Composer, an irresistible attraction, and many questions without answers...

The most mysterious thing about this novel was the consistently unprofessional behaviour of the protagonists. The detective and the prime suspect both declare their crazed love for the Judge and there is little sense to any of the relationships which evolve. The Composer clearly demonstrates his dramatic instability from his first introduction, yet the Judge seems determined to overlook this (presumably for the sake of the story). The mystery of the deaths within the Faith is marginally interesting as it is eventually unravelled but there is a distinct lack of tension and pace.

I've read several works of fiction by the same author, including The Deadly Space Between - another novel with a slightly mystical mystery at its core. The Deadly Space Between, while far from faultless, is told in crisp, evocative prose, and effortlessly maintains a taut, chill atmosphere, with building tension strung between the characters. I had hoped The Strange Case... might build on these strengths so I felt quite disappointed. The main characters' actions and reactions demonstrate little logic (with the exception of the Judge's assistant, who is equally irritating in terms of her determined `quirkiness'), and thus are difficult to relate to. The writing is inconsistent, and even a little confusing/unclear in places.
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Format: Hardcover
The mixed nature of the reviews this intelligent novel has attracted may have something to do with the way it combines genres. It was shortlisted for the CWA Dagger Crime Novel of the Year, so one expects it to be a crime novel, and it is in a way. The cover of the paperback version says it "out-Dan-Browns Dan Brown" (no apostrophe) so one also expects it to be a cultish thriller, which it is. And it is written in a style so erudite and literary, one expects it to be an example of literary fiction, which it undoubtedly is. This uneasy combination might confuse or disappoint some readers, but for me it makes it more interesting, more multi-layered and unexpected.

It's central character, the Judge, Dominique Carpentier, a lawyer and expert in dealing with crimes connected with religious cults, is brought in to investigate multiple suicides by members of a sect called The Faith. She is a fascinating character, fiercely independent in her personal as well as professional life, incorruptible, forensically intelligent, not moved by sentiment or romance yet capable of tender feelings, and absolutely dedicated to her work. She attracts love and loyalty to an extraordinary and mysterious degree: all the main characters are in love with her - the investigating officer, the chief suspect, the suspect's fey and innocent teenage daughter, not to mention her eccentric assistant. Her investigations lead her to the formidable Composer, the other fascinating character in the book, who is also a famous conductor; he is linked to everyone who died. His fierce passion for her draws her into the sect's secrets and helps to break down her defences, reserves and steely loneliness. He holds a unique position in the Faith and before his terrible suicide he does his best to pass this on to her.
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