Title & Author: The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of René Descartes, Andrew Pessin
Publication Date & Publisher: May 15, 2017, Open Books
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, General (Adult) Fiction, Murder Mystery
Length: 504 pages
ISBN: 13: 978-0998427447
My Rating: 5.0/5.0!!!!
(Yeah, I’m changing it up and putting the review first. I’m crazy like that!)
It’s no secret that I love books! Let’s face it… I blog about books to support my book addiction. So I’m rarely surprised to read a blurb, love the idea, read a story and love the book.
What is rare??? Finding a book that I love so much that I can find NOTHING negative to say about it! But that actually happened with The Irrationalist…
Andrew Pessin’s The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of René Descartes is a wonderful blending of historical fiction, murder mystery, and humor to create a story that is almost impossible to put down!
The story begins with a sad voyage by Adrien Baillet to Sweden. Baillet is a reluctant priest being sent away from the only home he can remember to represent his institution to the “most powerful government in Europe.” This might not sound remarkable, but immediately I was like, “huh?”
Baillet isn’t who you’d pick to represent you or your organization in anything! Especially not in important matters… Baillet’s own description is this:
He was in his early thirties – he didn’t know exactly how old – and had lived nearly his whole life first under the care of, and now taking care of, Rector Charlet. The good man had tried to make something of him, without much success. Baillet failed to do much academically, unable to distinguish himself in any subject at the college except swordsmanship, and even there his distinction was merely being the only boy to serve as live target dummy for the fencing classes.
Jesuit’s were expected to be smart, imposing, able to defend themselves and defeat their enemies when necessary (by brain or brawn didn’t matter). This is what everyone Baillet came in contact with expected of him, and they were all sorely disappointed! His mantra seemed to be “Perhaps if I had applied myself…”
When he arrives in Sweden, he is tasked with investigating the mysterious death of René Descartes. The official report needed to be that he had died of natural causes in order to stop the rumors spreading that Descartes had been murdered.
But Baillet’s job isn’t easy… EVERYONE is a suspect. EVERYONE has a motive. It’s like the list of possible suspects never ends!!
Was it the paranoid librarian, Freinsheimus? Or Descartes’ valet, Schluter? What about Doctor Wullens, Père Viogué or Former Predekant Voetius? His own brother, Pierre? The Chancellor himself, Zolindius? Someone else??? Bramer, perhaps?
I was still trying to piece it all together and figure out who did it and why at the very end… which has a twist that had me ready to re-read the entire book right that moment! Then I felt like a fool for not figuring it out myself!
As Baillet is constantly reminded by those he’s investigating… “Trust no one.” I should’ve listened. The answers were all there!
You might expect a book about a murder in the 1600’s to be all seriousness, but The Irrationalist is comical in both it’s dry and not-so-dry humor. Baillet bumbles his way through much of the investigation and his suspects pretty much do the investigating for him. He learns a lot though and comes out a different person at the end.
While the book is titled The Tragic Murder of René Descartes, it’s also about the tragic life and transformation of Adrien Baillet.
I definitely recommend picking this up if you enjoy historical fiction and/or murder mysteries!
Description (from Goodreads):
An historical murder mystery based on real events.
Who would want to murder the world’s most famous philosopher?
Turns out: nearly everyone.
In 1649, Descartes was invited by the Queen of Sweden to become her Court Philosopher. Though he was the world’s leading philosopher, his life had by this point fallen apart. He was 53, penniless, living in exile in Amsterdam, alone. With much trepidation but not much choice, he arrived in Stockholm in mid-October.
Shortly thereafter he was dead.
Pneumonia, they said. But who could believe that? There were just too many persons of interest who wanted to see Descartes dead, and for too many reasons. That so many of these persons were in Stockholm—thanks to the Gala the Queen was throwing to celebrate the end of the terrible Thirty Years’ War—made the official story all the less plausible. Death by poisoning was the unofficial word on the cobblestone.
Enter Adrien Baillet. A likeable misfit with a mysterious backstory, he arrives just as the French Ambassador desperately needs an impartial Frenchman to prove that Descartes died of natural causes—lest the “murder” in Lutheran Sweden of France’s great Catholic philosopher trigger colicky French boy-King Louis XIV to reignite that awful War. Baillet hesitatingly agrees to investigate Descartes’s death, knowing that if—or when—he screws up, he could be personally responsible for the War’s Thirty-First Year.
But solving the mystery of Descartes’s death (Baillet soon learns) requires first solving the mystery of Descartes’s life, with all its dangerous secrets … None of it is easy, as nearly everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted. Nor does it help that he must do it all under the menacing gaze of Carolus Zolindius, the terrifying Swedish Chancellor with the strangely intimidating limp.
But Baillet somehow perseveres, surprising everyone as he figures it all out—all the way to the explosive end.
What do you think of The Irrationalist? Have you read it or are you planning on reading it in the future? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!
Thank you to Open Books for providing me with a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.