It's not easy to describe a book like Ernst Jünger's A DANGEROUS ENCOUNTER. Is it a Jane Austenesque commentary on the suffocating social conventions of 19th Century Europe? A Conan-Doyle style murder mystery, set in Paris rather than London? Or a metaphysical treatise on the darker aspects of human nature, masquerading as a period novel?
I guess the answer is "all of the above." Because of that, and because Jünger's name is scarcely known to Americans despite his titanic status in Europe, it's going to be a chore to drum up a lot of interest in this book. It defies easy categorization, and it's written in such an unorthodox style, cheerfully violating nearly all the rules of conventional storytelling, that many readers will be baffled by its construction. Nevertheless, it bears reading if you are a fan of literary or historical fiction, philosophical musings on the human condition, or outside-the-box writing.
A DANGEROUS ENCOUNTER is the story of a number of different characters whose lives intersect over a single incident, set in motion by a rather evil-spirited old man named Ducasse. Once a wealthy and important figure in Parisian society, Ducasse has been marginalized by poverty, age and ill-health, to the point where his only real pleasure in life is in causing trouble for others. When he meets Gerhard zum Busche, a handsome but naïve and rather child-like young man attached German embassy, he quickly realizes he has a new pawn to play with. He deviously sets up zum Busche with an unstable married society woman named Irene Kargane, knowing that Kargane's husband, an officer in the French navy, is one of the more dangerous men in Paris. When Irene and Gerhard meet in an out-of-the way hotel, however, their liason is interrupted by a brutal murder that occurs on their doorstep, which may or may not have been committed by a transplanted Jack the Ripper. The would-be lovers are now in a precarious position; they are crucial witnesses to a grisly crime, but cannot testify lest their dalliance be discovered. Unfortunately for them, the murder draws the attention of a relentless police inspector with a sharp deductive brain and keen eye for human motivation named Dubrowsky, and his Dr. Watsonesque sidekick, Etienne. Before long the beans are spilled, and the cuckolded Captain Kargane goes looking for satisfaction with a pistol. And amidst all of this, the question remains: who committed the murder, and why?
ENCOUNTER is written in an unusual style, even for a noncomformist like Jünger. He introduces his characters sequentially, including some who enter the story quite late in the game, and constantly shifts the point-of-view, so that the whole tale is viewed from a dizzying array of perspectives, many of which seem only tangenitally focused on the story. As always, Jünger writes in a cooly metaphysical vein, with the principal character, Dubrowsky, a sort of ultraphilosophical Sherlock Holmes (right down to his intimate knowledge of his home-city and his occasional use his of cocaine) - relentless but oddly dispassionate in his pursuit of the guilty. (The book's best moments are generally to be found in the author's observations about human nature, especially the nature of criminals). E.J.'s reconstruction of late 1800s Paris is also quite impressive, not only in the physical sense, but in the way he conveys to the reader the complex, cumbersome and in some cases deadly social conventions of the era - the fact that Kargane despises his wife and bears Busche no ill-will for romancing her, yet coldly plans on killing the hapless German in a duel for the sake of his honor, does a great deal to capture the atmosphere of the period. Finally, the novel is relatively free of the weaknesses which plague E.J.'s other novels - turgid paragraphs, disjointed thinking, and weak transitions. This is not to say Jünger's writing style will please every reader, especially when it comes to his choice of endings, but he seems to have made a conscious effort here to make his often obscure work more approachable.
In sum, if you are looking for a novel which is truly "different" in character - unconventional, unusual and highly thoughtful, I would suggest A DANGEROUS ENCOUNTER. It may not exactly be dangerous, but it is interesting.