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Michael Gregorio
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A Visible Darkness
paperback
480 pages
Prussian Magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis is called to the Baltic coast, where the naked, mutilated body of a young woman has been found by the shore. This is an area rich in amber, harvested - mainly by women - to be transformed into priceless jewellery. The occupying French army has taken over this lucrative trade to finance the battle against the Russian invasion, but as more women are killed, they suspect the Prussian resistance movement. Hanno's fears meanwhile point towards a psychotic serial killer, and no woman here is safe..

Set in the late 19th century when Prussia has been occupied by the French, this novel not oly provides us with an intriguing insight into how life might have been like at that time, but also with a rather exquisite thriller, which keeps you turning over the pages to see what's happens next, without feeling too convoluted..

Recommended!
8/10
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Michael Gregorio
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Critique Of Criminal Reason
paperback
416 pages
Michael Gregorio's first novel is set in the Baltic port city of Konigsberg, Prussia in 1804. What we think of today as a serial killer is on the loose. The city is in a state of panic and conspiracy theories ranging from a Napoleonic plot against Prussia to the work of the devil only add to the panic. A young, inexperienced Procurator (the Prussian equivalent of a magistrate) by the name of Hanno Stiffeniis, is summoned by Kaiser Frederick Wilhelm from his small town to assist in the investigation.

As the name of the book suggests, Konigsberg's most famous citizen, the philosopher Immanuel Kant is behind Hanno's appointment. Hanno was once a star pupil of Kant and Kant believes that Hanno's reasoning abilities are critical to solving the crimes. What then follows is the literary birth of the science of forensic criminal investigation.

Kant, aged 80 and in rapidly failing health, believes that crimes should be analyzed using what may be called a `critique of reason'. Hanno is a reluctant pupil who's instincts and sense of tradition cause him to think that time honored methods such as torture are the most expedient means to solve a crime. Yet, the bodies keep popping up and Hanno gradually learns to adopt Kant's methodology to the art of criminal investigation. Immanuel Kant once said that the use of reason is driven by three questions: "What can I know? What ought I to do? What can I hope?" We see that process at work as the plot plays out.

This is Gregorio's first novel and some of the prose (far from all) seems a bit leaden. But ultimately, Critique of Criminal Reason was a very enjoyable book that kept my attention throughout. Gregorio's bleak portrayal of the dank, winter-storm wracked city of Konigsberg was powerful as was his merging of the last year of Kant's life into a piece of fiction. There are some similarities here to Umberto Eco's "Name of the Rose".

Luckily for me I read the 3rd Hanno Stiffeniis novel first, which was definitely a step up from this one. Still an entertaining read, so..

Recommended
7/10
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Michael Gregorio
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Days Of Atonement
paperback
444 pages
One year after the Prussian defeat at Jena-Auerstadt, the town of Lotingen is under occupation by the French Army. Hanno Stiffeniis, the narrator, is summoned to investigate the murder of the three Gottewald children in a lonely cottage in the forest. Serge Lavedrine, a French officer, who has both an interest in the fledging science of criminology, and Hanno's meetings with the now deceased Kant, will coordinate their investigation and smooth any conflicts with the French authorities. Of the victims the two male children have been sexually mutilated and the children's mother is missing, believed killed.

Hanno has to leave his wife Helena and his own children to travel to the remote fortress of Kamenetz on the Russian border, where the father Bruno Gottewald, a Prussian officer, is stationed. But when Hanno reaches the fortress, which is commanded by the fanatical nationalist General Katowice, he finds that Gottewald has been mysteriously killed on a training exercise.

On his return to Lotingen he discovers that the crushed corpse of a woman has been found in a warehouse. The whole Gottewald family has been wiped out in just a few weeks. Is this an act of the French to increase their power or is it a tragic coincidence?

Local opinion suspects it is the Jews seeking the blood of Christian children for their rituals? Gregorio immerses us so deeply in the ambience and mood of the time that the reader does not find this ludicrous 'medieval blood libel' to be out of keeping with the story. It is ironic that the Jews are emancipated by the advance of the Napoleonic armies, and yet in about a century France itself will be torn apart by the turmoil associated with that notorious miscarriage of justice, the Dreyfus Case.

Hanno and the charming schemer Lavendrine expand their investigations using the feminine intuition of Hanno's wife, Helena, and the very primitive sciences of cranial phrenology, crime scene analysis, skull reconstruction and forensic psychiatry. We are introduced to the strange theories of mesmerism or "animal magnetism", and the Jewish ghetto mysticism that predicts a great disaster to come from "here in Prussia". Hanno and Lavendrine travel to Konisberg and search Immanuel Kant's papers in order to find a motive for the killings, but the answers lie both closer to home and in the dark fortress of Kamenetz.
8/10
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