The Investigation is a crime novel, set in London. Or maybe it isn't.
Certainly it concerns a police inquiry, but whether a crime has been committed is uncertain. And it does appear to be set in foggy London - the police work from Scotland Yard - but it is not necessarily a familar London.
Lem is best known as a science fiction writer, the author of Solaris, and it is just possible that The Investigation is also science fiction in that it is apparently set in the future, but this is an assumption based on just one clue - it was published in 1959 but a character remarks that moonwalks are now common place. (Then again, the chief inspector has a small portrait of Queen Victoria on his office wall).
If this is a disorientating intro to a review, so be it; The Investigation is a disorientating book. For some reason, corpses in mortuaries are being moved, even dresed in odd clothes . In Shaltham a body turns over in its coffin, others disappear from the mortuary in Spitoon, and the dissecting room in Lovering medical school. A baffled police force calls in the baffling Dr Harvey Sciss. Sciss is "standoffish, nasty, absolutely devoid of tact," a logician who favours a statistical method of investigation ... almost never before used.
As Lieutenant Gregory says: "In my opinion this is a lousy case. There's something about it... something peculiar. It's not that it's difficult, but there are details that don't fit... not for material reasons but because the only connecting links are all psychological nonsense. It all builds up to nothing and leads to a dead end."
I bought The Investigation after reading an excellent In the Spotlight essay by Margot Kinberg, and we went on to have intersting exchange about what I at first thought were idiosyncracies in Adele Milch's translation, but now think may well be deliberate.
The police travel in an Oldsmobile, others in a Buick. One of the officers has the rank of Lieutenant, and they routinely carry pistols, definitely not the case in my London of 1959. I rather like the way Lem seems to have seized on London for its fog and the resonance of Scotland Yard, without much carrying about realism.
I wasn't as thrilled by The Investigation as Margot, but it is well worth reading. How could you not enjoy a book set in Spitoon, Engender and Dipper, and one of the characters is called Sergeant Calls, which I take to be a JB Priestley joke?