Review: The Irrationalist: An Historical Murder Mystery Asks Who Killed René Descartes

Review: The Irrationalist: An Historical Murder Mystery Asks Who Killed René Descartes

The Irrationalist — The Plot

Who would want to murder the world’s most famous philosopher? Turns out: nearly everyone.

The Irrationalist by Andrew Pessin

In 1649, Descartes was invited by the Queen of Sweden to become her Court Philosopher.  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.

Enter Adrien Baillet. A likable 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. 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.

My Honest Review

I absolutely loved this book! It has everything a good murder mystery needs: intrigues, secrets, shady characters, political affairs, and much more. The novel is quite lengthy, with over 500 pages. Still, the story never gets slow or dull.

Honestly, I’m not interested in philosophy and I didn’t know much about Descartes’s work and his private life. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the novel. While the novel is primarily a mystery, it is also a historical novel. It provides a bunch of interesting info — both true and fictional — about Descartes.

In addition, the murder mystery is amazing. Literally every character we meet could be the killer. There’s a lot of suspense, which makes this novel such a compelling read.

The characters are amazing, too. Baillet is the exact opposite of a traditional protagonist. He’s cowardly, unconfident, not educated enough, and just very plain. As the story progresses, he grows and becomes a far better version of himself. His story is just as captivating as the one concerning Descartes.

While I did figure out all major plot twists, it didn’t spoil the book for me. I was looking forward to the moment when the truth is uncovered. Unfortunately, the final, most dramatic scene, seems a bit rushed to me, which is the only area where this book falls short.

The Verdict

If you like good mysteries, historical novels, and fascinating characters, trust me — you will love this novel. It’s one of the most enjoyable books that I’ve read recently, so I highly recommend it.

Mina Vucicevic
Mina Vucicevic
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THE IRRATIONALIST by Andrew Pessin