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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Investigation by Stanislaw Lem

The Investigation - Stanisław Lem, Adele Milch

The best thing about this book is its air of mystery. It's a mystery novel, but that doesn't tell you anything about it, really. There's a puzzle and an English police inspector and even a suspect, but it's not about any of that. It's about perception and how perception is its own reality.

The description on the back of my paperback says, "To unravel the mystery Lieutenant Gregory consults scientific, philosophical, and theological experts, who supply him with a host of theories and clues." This is one of those ad copy lies I enjoy pointing out. Gregory does no such thing. A scientist is involved from the beginning, but not at Gregory's direction. As for the other experts, they don't exist. The other theories come from Gregory's boss and Gregory himself. In fact, it's a particularly ironic lie, in that it implies a degree of organization in his methodology that Gregory himself rejects, even if only because he's incapable of it.

Still, the various theories are presented, though not often in great depth. This lack of depth is disappointing but necessary, for Lem isn't interested in any one theory but in the idea of many theories, each representing the facts from a different perspective. And to delve too deeply into any theory would have destroyed the mood of the book, which, for my money, is its greatest asset.

That mood springs from Lem's evocation of the eerie, the odd, and the mysterious, in things as strange as corpses seemingly coming back to life and as commonplace as weird noises from the apartment next door. In the absence of all the facts, what do we make of such things? How can Gregory, or anyone, solve the case? The answers to those questions come at the end of the book, and include a particularly creepy scene set in the English countryside...at night...in deep fog.