Saturday, 17 July 2004
Philip Kerr: A Philosophical Investigation (1992)
Review number: 1252
Having already read a couple of Philip Kerr's thrillers that seem to be heavily influenced by Michael Crichton, I was not expecting A Philosophical Investigation to be the kind of novel that it is. It is in the crime rather than thriller genre, even if it picks the crime theme most conducive to a thriller style, the serial killer. With a serial killer, the traditional methods of detective fiction, relating means, motive and opportunity to the people surrounding the victim, are either hard to apply or hardly relevant. Even so, Kerr's novel lies between the two genres, but is closer to the core of the crime genre than the thriller. Among its deviations from the standard practises of either genre is the background - it takes place in a stylised, science fictional alternate reality that reminds me of Jasper Fforde's England of The Eyre Affair - but stripped of its silly touches.
The plot of A Philosophical Investigation is hard to describe without giving away some of the fun details that make the novel different, and which is so much better as a reader to discover for oneself. The changes made to create the alternative world are cleverly woven into the investigation; and the alert reader will pick up all kinds of literary and philosophical references and other touches - this may strike some as tedious and too clever by half, but I find it fascinating. (A familiarity with some basic ideas of Western philosophy gives a reader a big advantage - something on the level of Sophie's World should be read before this novel.) It is a rare crime novel that makes me feel inspired to read Wittgenstein - and the enjoyment is not just intellectual, as A Philosophical Investigation is full of jokes, too.