Rousseau's Ghost: A Novel

Rousseau's Ghost: A Novel

by Terence Ball
     
 

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Set primarily in Paris and Oxford, this fast-paced mystery novel links a long-missing manuscript from a famous eighteenth-century philosopher with a dark secret to a late twentieth-century murder of a prominent Princeton professor.

A long-missing manuscript from a famous eighteenth-century philosopher with a dark secret, the late twentieth-century murder

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Overview

Set primarily in Paris and Oxford, this fast-paced mystery novel links a long-missing manuscript from a famous eighteenth-century philosopher with a dark secret to a late twentieth-century murder of a prominent Princeton professor.

A long-missing manuscript from a famous eighteenth-century philosopher with a dark secret, the late twentieth-century murder in Paris of a prominent Princeton professor—and the connection between the two—form the core of this fast-paced mystery novel. Set primarily in Paris and Oxford, Rousseau’s Ghost weaves a riveting tale of scholarly intrigue and murder.

An urgent but cryptic request from Professor Ted Porter summons his old friend and former Rhodes Scholar Jack Davis to Paris. Once there Jack finds his friend dead, apparently electrocuted by a faulty laptop computer. The Parisian police rule the death an accident and close the case. But Jack well knew his friend’s deep aversion to modern technology, and to computers in particular, and believes the computer was not Ted’s and his death no accident.

Unable to convince the police, Jack begins his own investigation, aided by Danielle, a beautiful young French woman who claims to have been Ted’s research assistant and sometime lover. Sifting through Ted’s notes and an unfinished manuscript titled Rousseau’s Ghost, he finds a mysterious entry: “Inst Pol??!!” Not knowing what this might mean, he travels to Oxford to see his old tutor, who surmises that Ted’s shorthand query refers to the Institutions Politiques, a manuscript on which Rousseau worked in the 1750s but later abandoned and burned, except for the small section we now know as the Social Contract. Could the rest of the manuscript have survived? Could Ted have found it? If so, was he murdered for his discovery? Could Jack and Danielle be next?

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Synthesizing echoes of Poe and state-of-the-art Internet issues, an unlikely plot achieves a tone of lucid, camp humanity in the fiction debut of political scientist Ball (Reappraising Political Theory). ...the novel has a winning integrity.” — Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Synthesizing echoes of Poe and state-of-the-art Internet issues, an unlikely plot achieves a tone of lucid, camp humanity in the fiction debut of political scientist Ball (Reappraising Political Theory). New York lawyer Jack Davis reaches Paris to find his old friend, Princeton scholar Ted Porter, dead as a result of a computer short-circuit. Knowing his friend's contempt for computers, Jack smells a rat. Teaming up with Ted's research assistant, Danielle Dupin, Jack airs his suspicions to old Christ Church Oxford tutor Sir Jeremiah Altmann. The octogenarian is equally suspicious and decodes Ted's cryptic note "Inst pol?!?!" as a reference to 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Institutions Politiques, a larger work, rumored to have been destroyed, from which Rousseau extracted only Le Contrat Social. It seems Ted's conviction that Institutions had survived may have enraged the mysterious Societe de Jean-Jacques, which is devoted to controlling the master's legacy. After a philosophical lull, the plot accelerates to a cinematic action scene, the climax of the struggle to define intellectual property. Although parts are contrived (Danielle is too much the middle-aged man's erotic fantasy, the francophobia and anglophilia naive, and the supposedly brilliant narrator's bewilderment comprehensible only as a ruse), the novel has a winning integrity. (Oct.)
Booknews
A connection between a long-missing manuscript from a famous 18th- century philosopher with a dark secret, and the late 20th-century murder of a prominent Princeton professor, forms the core of this fast-paced mystery novel. No index. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
The Parisian police tell Jack Davis that his old friend Professor Ted Porter was accidentally electrocuted by a miswired laptop computer. But Jack, summoned to Ted's side by a frantic telegram, knows that Ted hated computers and would never have used one; and Jack's legal secretary and sometime lover Grace Wu, when he ships the offending machine back home to her, discovers that it's been deliberately booby-trapped. So it looks like Ted was murdered, and it looks like Jack is the only person in France who has any interest in tracking down his killerþunless you count the mysterious Danielle Dupin, the entrancing research assistant to whom Ted had dedicated his latest book, the subversive and revelatory study Rousseau's Ghost. As Jack makes his way to Oxford, where he and Ted had been Rhodes Scholars together, and then back to an increasingly dangerous Paris, it becomes clear from Ted's work on Rousseau's lost magnum opus Institutions politiques that author Ball (Political Science/Arizona State) is aiming for a slimmed-down American Name of the Roseþand equally clear that his first novel, which swings from improbable melodrama to heartfelt swipes at deconstructionism and etymological disquisitions on the virtue proper to dogs, owes a lot more to the canons of the academic mystery than to Umberto Eco. Ball's greatest success in bringing Rousseau and his work to life, making it a lot easier to generate the interest in Rousseau readers will need to get immersed in the half-hearted mystery.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780791439340
Publisher:
State University of New York Press
Publication date:
09/28/1999
Pages:
216
Product dimensions:
6.02(w) x 8.46(h) x 0.74(d)

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