In spite of its plot, John Banville’s The Book of Evidence is no more an example of the crime or detective novel than is Fyodor Dostoevski’s Prestupleniye I nakazaniye (1866; Crime and Punishment, 1886). Instead, The Book of Evidence uses the circumstances of Freddie Montgomery’s painstaking reflection on his crime and incarceration to examine the question of truth.
As a former scientist and statistician, Freddie had explored and apparently already rejected the deceptive illusion of truth that science offers. He asserts early on that he had gravitated to science to make uncertainty more manageable. His overwhelming attraction to Portrait of a Woman with Gloves, the Dutch painting that leads him to theft and murder, can be understood as an abortive exploration into the attraction of artistic beauty. Freddie had always understood works of art only in terms of their monetary value.
It is only in the days following his crime that Freddie begins to take any interest in other people. He says at one point that he had killed Josephine Bell simply because he could. Elsewhere he attributes his crime to a failure of imagination, but it seems that the act of murder itself, or perhaps the series of events that preceded and followed it, unblock his imagination. While staying with Charlie French after the murder, he takes pleasure in following strangers on the street, indulging in detailed speculation about...
(The entire section is 548 words.)