An inquisitor is questioning an old man, the former caretaker in a wealthy household, about the recent and sudden departure of the house’s residents. The answers he gives can be evasive and defensive, ranging from detailed observations to vague remarks, leaving one unsure as to whether he is telling the truth or not. The insight that the old servant provides regarding the habits and lives of that household and the inhabitants of the surrounding towns reveals details that can be mundane, surprising or unnerving. As the novel progresses, suspicious, even sinister details begin to build up, possibly incriminating his former employers, their acquaintances and his colleagues. As the elderly man becomes more overtly defensive and conveniently forgetful, the inquisitor ruthlessly questions him over the smallest details.
The novel has an unusual style, reflecting the nature of the dialogue between the two men and the characterization of the elderly man as rambling and over-observant in some respects, but seemingly forgetful and prone to digression. Despite the style, it is well structured, creating a net of suspicious circumstances and possible accusations, leading the two men into confrontation over the old man's recall of the events – is he deliberately trying to mislead the inquisitor, and why?
Pinget is clearly intrigued by the nature of truth and memory, a theme that is central to the novel, as the inquisitor attempts to draw out the truth from the reluctant servant. Does society place constraints upon him dishing out both facts and gossip about others, is he trying to protect someone, or just tired of recalling his former life? The rural, small-town antics of this French community are described in enormous detail, creating a portrait of the different people and places within an area over several decades – their everyday business, affairs, eccentricities, beliefs and crimes. Sometimes puzzling, and with a style and structure that requires focus, The Inquisitory – another gem from our Calder list – is nevertheless an amusing, well-observed and engaging work.