cover image A Philosophical Investigation

A Philosophical Investigation

Philip Kerr. Farrar Straus Giroux, $20 (329pp) ISBN 978-0-374-23176-7

Semantics, epistemology and serial murder share center stage in this imaginative but unconvincing near-future thriller. The year is 2013, and European researchers have discovered a physiological basis for violent criminal tendencies in men. The Lombroso program in Britain screens possible subjects and maintains a database of those diagnosed with the condition, as aids to law enforcement--serial killings have become terrifyingly common. When a previously law-abiding pharmacist is diagnosed as ``VDM-negative'' (potentially dangerous), he breaks into the program's computer system, removes his name from the records and begins systematically assassinating other men on the list. In London, Chief Inspector Isadora ``Jake'' Jakowicz takes on the case and begins a philosophical cat-and-mouse game with the killer, code-named Wittgenstein. Kerr ( A German Requiem ) interpolates passages from the murderer's journals into the third-person narrative, along with citations from the works of Ludwig Wittgenstein and other philosophers. But the cliches and improbabilities of the plot are not camouflaged by their outlandish context, as Kerr overplays his most original ideas, delivering the details of his futuristic vision in a distracting gee-whiz manner. The frequent philosophical discussions, as they are drawn out, become less convincing and more ostentatious. (Apr.)