(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Investigation is a detective novel. Several corpses have apparently become reanimated while awaiting burial, and some have disappeared. As Gregory, of Scotland Yard, investigates the cases, he and his associates must deal with such problems as how to distinguish the normal from the miraculous, how to develop explanations for any phenomena, and how to distinguish facts from interpretations. The narration follows Gregory’s work on this case, playfully manipulating the conventions of detective fiction.

The novel opens with various experts studying the details of several cases in which corpses have been disturbed or have disappeared. The presumed crimes have been perfectly executed, for there is no evidence to identify their agent, nor is any motive indicated. Sciss, the statistician, finds a pattern in the occurrences. They are moving, like a wave, away from a central point. He successfully predicts the probable location of the next occurrence.

The central section of the novel details Gregory’s investigation of what turns out to be the last in the series of disturbances. Gregory’s analysis of the scene moves him toward concluding that a naked male corpse has come back to life, left its coffin, climbed out a window (even though the door was unlocked), and crawled through new-fallen snow to the back door of the mortuary, before finally succumbing. The sight of the reanimated body climbing through the window probably caused the constable on special guard duty to panic, and as a result, the only eyewitness to one of these events ran wildly into the road, where he was struck down by a passing car. Having suffered a fractured skull, the constable remains unconscious and near death during the investigation.

In addition to fulfilling the pattern of location discovered by Sciss, this event shares with the others the time of occurrence, between midnight and dawn; the presence of a small dead animal, a cat, at or near the scene; and foggy weather.

The detective’s problem is to find the person who is causing these events to happen, which involves finding some intelligible motive for producing these phenomena. The police begin with the natural idea that a madman is the perpetrator, but no known form of madness would lead to these acts. When Chief Inspector Sheppard assigns the case to Gregory, no solution seems possible. Together, however, the two men consider several possibilities. Gregory finds the inhuman perfection of the incidents most disturbing, as it suggests that there is no agent. Sheppard points out that a fanatic attempting to start a new religion might try to imitate Christ’s resurrection, in which case the perfection of the incidents would be the goal rather than merely a means of escaping detection. Sheppard also suggests the...

(The entire section is 1146 words.)