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A Visible Darkness: A Mystery Hardcover – April 14, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
Book 3 of 4 in the Hanno Stiffeniis Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Set in 1808, the superb third whodunit from the pseudonymous Gregorio (the husband-wife team of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio) to feature Prussian magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis (after 2008's Days of Atonement) subtly probes the heart of human darkness. When a woman who collects precious amber, a resource Napoleon hopes to use to generate funds, is horribly butchered, Stiffeniis must work for his French occupiers to solve the mystery. As more victims follow the first, Stiffeniis's hopes of a speedy resolution that would enable him to be present for his latest child's birth are dashed. Aided by Johannes Gurten, an odd apprentice who's adopted Buddhism, the sleuth attempts to get cooperation from those working at all levels of the amber trade to identify the killer's true motive. While some readers will anticipate the solution, the pitch-perfect evocation of the period and the compelling, gloomy atmosphere more than compensate for any lack of surprise. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

Upon finishing this third mystery featuring nineteenth-century Prussian magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis, readers are likely to give thanks for modern medicine and hygiene. As a serial killer methodically hacks and slices his (or her) way along the Amber Coast of the Baltic Sea, Gregorio takes every opportunity to supply vivid descriptions—not just of the killer’s handiwork, but also of various unpleasant anatomical inner workings. Amid the viscera, there is a crime to solve. With his wife due to deliver their fourth child and the Napoleonic Wars raging, Stiffeniis is called away to Nordcopp, where he is charged with finding the person responsible for murdering an amber collector. Unfortunately, his investigative talents, learned in Critique of Criminal Reason (2006) from no less than Immanuel Kant, cannot prevent further grisly deaths. Gregorio uses the idea of amber as a metaphor to evoke the passion of those who trade the stones as well as to suggest the evil strength and perverted intelligence of his villain, a horrifying blend of Hannibal Lecter and Joseph Mengele. Philosophy and chemistry run amok in this intelligent, compelling, but definitely difficult-to-read thriller. --Jen Baker
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; 1 edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312544359
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312544355
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,434,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The third work in Michael Gregorio's historical fiction/mystery is a wonderful follow-up to the first two. Gregorio (actually a husband and wife team) immediately drives the reader into the arcane world of amber mining on the Baltic Coast. Hanno Stiffeniis, the hero, is a Prussian magistrate serving the French rulers. His task: to solve the murders of two female amber miners so as to increase amber production. Hanno has to deal with numerous roadblocks placed by his French masters as well as overcoming the view that he is a traitor to his Prussian co-patriots.
Gregorio is a master at setting the stage. The brutality of conditions that the woman face in recovering the amber from underneath the cold Baltic waters is mind boggling. The antipathy of the French occupiers harkens the reader to conditions our soldiers must face in Iraq as they go about their tasks. Yet Hanno manages to overcome all of the hurdles to once again use the talents he learned from Immanuel Kant to solve the crime.
While prior reading of the first two books in not critical to understanding A Visible Darkness, why deprive yourself of two great books? Readers of C.J. Sansom's books will find A Visible Darkness serious competition. If you are looking for an alternative to historical fiction that apes Dan Brown, A Visible Darkness is a must read.
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Format: Hardcover
Michael Gregorio's third mystery with Procurator Hanno Stiffeniis once again brings the magistrate more than his share of troubles. Living as a Prussian in territory occupied by French troops after the disastrous Battle of Jena, the reader learns, has its share of humiliations both large and small. And yet when a string of murders occur amongst the amber gathering girls working on the shores of the Baltic Sea, the French turn to Stiffeniis and his proven track record to solve the crime. After all, there's a need to keep the trade in priceless amber flowing and thus keep the French war machine running in Spain.

Stiffeniis is certainly caught between a rock and a hard place. Being known to cooperate with an invading force and help assure their continued stripping away of his country's wealth and resources is a risky endeavor. But on the other hand, Prussian women are being murdered, and someone needs to stop the killer. And perhaps with success the French might be obliged and owe a few favors to his town of Lotingen? So, bidding his wife Helena farewell, he heads to Nordkopp to try and stop a monster.

That moral dilemma seems to characterize the shades of grey that pervade the book: few characters and situations are fully what they seem on the surface. Stiffeniis himself lives in fear of the blacker regions of his own soul, a thing he has admitted to few people--the foremost being his mentor, Immanuel Kant, who encouraged his turn to criminal investigation. Each crime he investigates seems to evoke both a passion for justice and a need to better understand that inner darkness.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My family came from Prussia and I found these novels an enjoyable way to learn about the country. The history is excellent and the story line compelling. It is a narrow interest and I do not think many people would find it as interesting as I did.
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Format: Hardcover
Chafing under the heavy yoke of French occupation, Prussian magistrate Hanno Stefaniis, buttoned-up and artistic, becomes a little more daring with every outing.

It's the summer of 1808 in this third book and Napoleon's army is tramping through Hanno's Baltic hometown of Lotingen (fictional) on its way to recalcitrant Spain. For three weeks the filth of an army of men and their horses has piled up in the streets. "The French would not clean up after themselves. No Prussian would clean up after the French."

In light of this impasse, "The street was a dark brown carpet, and all above was a dense dark cloud of flies and other insects." This is the mildest of descriptions in a vivid opening chapter. Hanno's very pregnant wife is nearly catatonic with disgust and dread.

When Hanno is called upon by the French to solve the murder of an amber worker up the coast, he strikes a bargain. If he solves the murder the French army cleans Lotingen. Not that he really has any choice.

Amber seems to have worked its strange ways upon the environs of Nordcopp village, where the people are secretive and suspicious. Amber is mined below the surface of the sea - hard and dangerous work. Workers mutilated from blasting eke out a beggarly living in the village. Others drown in the unpredictable sea.

The French covet the stuff to fuel the needs of their army, but amber strikes a patriotic flame in the hearts of Prussians as well as personal greed. The French commander, who revels in affronting Hanno's fastidiousness with his arrogance and personal crudeness, is obsessed with creating a machine to mine amber and free himself of Prussian workers.
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