One of the more important aspects of any historical fiction is that the novel impart some knowledge. The Irrationalist, by Andrew Pessin meets that demand and then some. Written as both a murder mystery, as well as a discourse on European fratricide, the author delves into the minds of the elites, both religious and political, and the animosities that so bloodied the European continent for decades in the early 1600s.
The book begins at the conclusion to the Thirty Years War. After the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, Queen Christina of Sweden, a fascinating and controversial figure in her own right, has become the undisputed, most powerful ruler in Europe. She was adamant in making certain that everyone knew of, and kowtowed to, her position. She was determined to make Stockholm the center of European, art, culture, science and philosophy. To that end she summoned all the great minds to her newly formed Academie, including Rene Descartes.
But all was not well. Descartes, who was known for his eccentricities, dies within months of arriving in Sweden. For a man who was known to be fastidious about his own health, there were rumors that the death was not natural. And as a treasured Catholic French figure, it would not bode well for Lutheran Christina’s position to have “assassin,” or “incompetent administrator,” added to her biography, especially at such a volatile religious time.
In order to find out the truth, or rather to hush up the truth, a murder investigation is launched. But what the chosen sleuth, a rather average French Jesuit named Adrien Baillet, finds out about the great philosopher just adds questions upon questions. For there were many realities about Descartes’ life upon which everyone agreed, one of those being that he had many enemies who would be overjoyed at his death.
More importantly, what the young Pere soon learns, is that in order to solve the mystery of Descartes’ death, he needs to first solve the mystery of his life. Moving between the novel’s present, and Descartes’ past, the reader is treated to an understanding of life and death in the 17th century. Through this juxtaposition the reader learns the sad history of the life of one of the world’s greatest minds, and how genius is not always a gift, no matter the Age of Man.
This is an intricately woven mystery, with characters that reach into the very heart of European politics and religion. Relationships, allegiances, and even friendships are bartered, or sold, and alternatively sway with the shift of power. The time period was definitely not for the weak, the foolish, or the petulant. It was most assuredly a very dangerous time to be an outspoken seeker of philosophical, or mathematical truths.
If you are looking for an interesting mystery that keeps you guessing to the very end, this is definitely a book to add to your must read list.
This book is now available.
I received the book in an author giveaway contest on Amazon.