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death leaves a mystery to be unraveled by Landsman, the detective,

whose job it is to read in Mendel’s dead body any clue that may lead

to a singular answer

the identification of Mendel’s killer, the

disclosure of the murderer’s motive for killing the deceased, and the

completion of Mendel’s story of a life of failure. As Landsman

himself puts it, weary as he is, he has not lost his “appetite for

people’s stories,” his appetite for “puzzling back through [people’s

stories] from the final burst of violence to the first mistake” (168).

However, as Landsman goes on with his investigation, it is as if

Landsman, rather than being guided by his detective instinct, has

been singled out and called out by Mendel so that he has no other

option but to respond to this call and read on. Landsman continues

to investigate Mendel’s murder case, unmotivated by self-interest or

calculation. In other words, it can be said that it is Mendel who, in

his untimely death, brings out in Landsman what has lain dormant

“as a potential waiting to be addressed” (Santner, 2001: 132), that

which exceeds Landsman’s knowledge and understanding.

Mendel is the text that Landsman cannot resist reading, but

before Landsman can properly read Mendel’s stories he must begin

by piecing together the puzzles randomly scattered about the crime

scene. The detective’s reliance on random details is well attuned to

the emphasis of contemporary counterfactual narrative on

contingency and arbitrariness. Adam Rovner, in noting the

prevalence of detective form in contemporary counterfactual fiction,

argues that the marriage of the detective form and the counterfactual

thinking functions to excavate, through the remnants of an unsolved

mystery, counter-memories that are also alternative histories. So

doing, the counterfactual novel that makes use of the detective form

helps to “dispel the illusion of determinism that the historical

perspective creates: this liberation enhances the freedom for thought,

for reform, for change” (149). Indeed, the coupling of the detective

form and the counterfactual thinking can be taken as a response to,

or a critique of, “the historiography’s displacement of the contingent”

(149). However, the detective reader, in successfully solving the