A Philosophical Investigation

A Philosophical Investigation

Author
Philip Kerr
ARRSE Rating
1 Mushroom Head
‘A Philosophical Investigation’ is a reissued novel by the late author, Philip Kerr, having been originally published in 1992. This is the second of Kerr’s books I have reviewed (the first, Hitler’s Peace, was released posthumously for the first time in the UK, having been originally available to the North American market in 2005). Kerr is perhaps better known in this country for the Bernie Gunther series of detective novels set in Germany from the mid-30s to late 50s.

This seems a strange choice to republish. Written in 1992, the publisher’s blurb describes it as ‘dystopian nightmare’. It is set in London, in 2013, where serial killings have reached staggering proportions, scientists have discovered an area of the brain which predisposes men to violent crime and have produced a database with everyone on it given a codename of a noteworthy being for example 'Shakespeare'. 'Punitive coma’ is the punishment of choice. So far, so dystopian, but obviously, 2013 was not that long ago and it is really difficult to engage with the supposed futuristic aspects when, of course, we all know 2013 was a different beast. I will readily admit that my reading of this genre is limited to Orwell’s classic ‘1984’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood, and I was looking forward to seeing how this book measured up. The answer was, it didn’t; it has not stood the test of time, and the interweaving of details such as an IRA bomber being placed in a punitive coma seems anachronistic some 22 years after the Good Friday Agreement.

Told by a limited third person narrator following the investigation by Chief Inspector Jakowicz (known as Jake), the female detective hunting someone is murdering men predisposed to violent crime, regardless of their current innocence. This narrative style alternates chapters with the first person narration by the killer, codenamed ‘Wittgenstein’ (named after a philosopher apparently, do keep up at the back), who, it won’t spoil things to know as it is revealed very early on, has himself been diagnosed with a predisposition to violence. The chapters narrated by Wittgenstein are by far the more enjoyable, and with the exception of Jake, no other character receives sufficient attention to be memorable. Jake herself is underdrawn and, to me, unconvincing. The story unfolds at a fairly pedestrian pace,

Far be it from me to criticise an author of Kerr’s reputation, but I would recommend the Bernie Gunther series of novels over this, and there are many other cat-and-mouse detective stories which would be more worth your time. And if it’s 'dystopian future' genre fiction you’re after, stick to something which isn't set in the not too distant past.
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