A Visible Darkness: A Mystery
by Michael Gregorio
Review by Mel Jacob
Minotaur Books Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312650957
Date: 26 April 2011 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Those who like historical mysteries with a touch of mysticism, convoluted criminal psychology, and are fans of Hanno Stiffeniis, a 19th century Prussian Procurator and criminal investigator, will enjoy his latest adventure A Visible Darkness. Set in Prussia during the occupation of Napoleon's troops, young women who harvest amber along the Baltic coast are being murdered and mutilated. The French call upon Stiffeniis to investigate the crime.
His wife Helena, expecting a child, is in her eighth month when the French military call upon him to solve the murders. He is whisked to the coast and encounters a dedicated officer whose charge is to speed up the recovery of amber from the Baltic coast. He wants technology to speed the process and to eliminate the women now used. However, like new processes, technical problems occur. He also believes the criminal is Prussian and demands Stiffeniis produce the guilty party.
The investigation ranges from the Baltic French encampment to a trading center for amber and even to the old Prussian capital. Prussians distrust Stiffeniis because he is working for the French while the French look down on all Prussians. The murders continue and spread farther afield.
A young man contacts Stiffeniis with a letter assigning him as an apprentice magistrate to learn how to investigate crimes. Intelligent and dedicated, he at times takes the lead, which annoys Stiffeniis. He insists a Prussian doctor is the murderer.
Some readers will work out the identity of the murderer before Stiffeniis does. Along the way they will learn much about the Napoleonic occupation of Prussia, about early criminal investigations using the methods of Immanuel Kant, Kant's philosophy, the Pietist religious sect founded by Jakob Spener, the making of wax anatomical models, and the amber trade.
Michael Gregorio is the pseudonym of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio. Earlier adventures of Stiffeniis and Helena include Days of Atonement and Critique of Criminal Reason. The next volume, An Unholy Awakening will appear in the near future.