Select one of the keywords
Critique of Criminal Reason    by Michael Gregorio order for
Critique of Criminal Reason
by Michael Gregorio
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

As a police magistrate in the service of King Frederick Wilhelm III of Prussia in the early 19th century, Hanno Stiffeniis has been posted to duties in the tranquil and uneventful town of Lotingen for the past several years, but now his life is about to change dramatically.

Summoned to the big city of Königsberg, Stiffeniis must investigate and solve a mysterious series of murders that have occurred at intervals during the past year. Apparently the work of a serial killer, the unsolved crimes will challenge Stiffeniis who feels honored to have been chosen as the investigator but remains puzzled as to why the king has assigned him to a task for which Stiffeniis himself knows that he is professionally unprepared.

Stiffeniis's preliminary inquiries exacerbate his puzzlement, especially when he finds that a necromancer named Doctor Vigilantius has also been involved in the investigation. As a disciple of the spiritualist Emanuel Swedenborg, the doctor claims to have found useful clues by having communicated with the dead bodies of the murder victims. Stiffeniis rejects the doctor's irrational and bizarre approach, but admits that he has very few clues of his own upon which to proceed rationally.

Then, however, Stiffeniis - paradoxically relieved but confused - discovers that his old acquaintance, the illustrious philosopher and internationally respected rationalist Immanuel Kant is, in fact, the person who has arranged for Stiffeniis's assignment to the case. Following Kant's sagacious guidance, Stiffeniis's investigation is reenergized and redirected. Soon, he - with Kant as his mentor - is pursuing fresh leads and possibilities, avoiding red herrings and false confessions, and delving into 'the darkest impulses of the human heart,' even as other people involved in the investigation are being murdered.

What Stiffeniis will learn, however, is something for which he does not believe he is cognitively and emotionally prepared even though his own shadowy and tortured past has unwittingly prepared him for what he is about to discover about crimes, criminals, and the human capacity for irrational cruelty. Now, Kant will lead him to understand the shocking and bewildering ways in which the series of murders have occurred. And the murderer's identity and motives, when revealed, will nearly overwhelm Stiffeniis.

Written in engaging prose, Critique of Criminal Reason is a sophisticated, thought-provoking excursion into history and the fictional origins of forensic criminology. Enriched by period details and complex characterizations, Michael Gregorio's tale of 19th century murder and mayhem takes readers into the philosophical realm of logic, rationalism, and the nature of evil. Erudite and challenging, Critique of Criminal Reason is, in the final analysis, a superb mystery that is intricately plotted and filled with surprises. Saying it in a different way, Sherlock Holmes would have been quite proud of Hanno Stiffeniis!

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Mystery books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews