Follow Here To Purchase The Stages

Author: Thom Satterlee

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

ISBN: 978-1-62953-419-0

Daniel Peters tells his own story in Thom Satterlee's novel, The Stages, which would be interesting even without the murder of Daniel's boss and former girlfriend—although of course that's the thread that pulls us through the pages. 

Daniel is a middle-aged American man who has lived in Copenhagen for twenty years where he works as a translator at the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center. An extremely circumscribed life with minimal human contact and a rigid routine suits Daniel who suffers from Asperger's syndrome.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, "Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Asperger syndrome is . . . synonymous with the most highly functioning individuals with ASD. Two core features of autism are: a) social and communication deficits and b) fixated interests and repetitive behaviors.  The social communication deficits in highly functioning persons with Asperger syndrome include lack of the normal back and forth conversation; lack of typical eye contact, body language, and facial expression; and trouble maintaining relationships." It makes Daniel a brilliant translator but hobbles him as a freelance investigator. He cannot tell when someone lying or speaking ironically.

The Stages opens with the funeral of Matte Rassmussan, the director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center. She's been brutally hacked to death; Daniel had seen her the night of her death; the Copenhagen police have no suspects although they certainly have questions for Daniel. Adding to the mystery, recently-discovered Kierkegaard manuscript has gone missing from the vault where it was stored. Fortunately—or not—Daniel had already translated the contents.

As an amateur translator myself, I was interested in Daniel's description of the work: . . . "[I] pay attention to words, hear what they say and say back what they mean, what they could mean or most likely would mean in English rather than Danish; what the words mean, in some sense, beyond both languages, in another more essential language, which is like a sea I cast into and draw out words—some I throw back, others I keeps; and I do this over and over again in my mind, until whole sentences of the right words are strung together with a rhythm that holds them like a taut wire—and these word-strung wires I place carefully on the lines of my exercise booklet, one after another, down the page and onto the next."

Because of the story Satterlee is telling, the reader learns a great deal about Kierkegaard's life and work, including how to pronounce his name ("Kyerk-ah-gore"). Because of the setting, we learn something about Danish life and culture. For example, "If I have to be the suspect in a murder case, let it be Copenhagen where a senior officer brews fresh strong coffee and offers you sugar from a crystal bowl." Because of Satterlee's skill, we never leave Daniel's point of view, and reading what Daniel does, and why and how does it seems entirely plausible and convincing. I'll second Publishers Weekly's blurb: "A deftly crafted mystery that will leave readers curious and surprised." I was surprised and satisfied.

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