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Days of Atonement    by Michael Gregorio order for
Days of Atonement
by Michael Gregorio
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2008 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

The highly recommended Days of Atonement is a compelling sequel to the critically and popularly successful Critique of Criminal Reason (previously reviewed for BookLoons by this reviewer) which comes from Michael Gregorio (the pseudonym of an immensely talented husband-and-wife writing team: Daniela de Gregorio - an Italian who has taught philosophy to high school students - and Michael G. Jacob - an Englishman who has been a partner in a language school).

When Days of Atonement begins in 1807, the magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis (previously seen in Critique of Criminal Reason) and his family (wife Helena and children) are living in Lotingen, Prussia. Life for the former intellectual disciple of Immanuel Kant, however, is not without problems, especially now that a fearful Prussia has been invaded, conquered, and remains occupied by Napoleon's army. Everywhere throughout the vanquished country, the minds and hearts of Prussians have been infected by the persistently virulent horror of war and conquest.

Late one night, the frightened magistrate is abruptly taken from his home by French soldiers, but rather than facing imprisonment and death (as he initially fears), he is taken instead to the scene of a grotesque crime: the horrific murders and mutilations of three small children (and the mysterious disappearance of the children's mother). Ordered by the French authorities to undertake the criminal investigation - as the reluctant ally of a haughty French officer who specializes in criminology - Hanno Stiffeniis begins by carefully assessing the physical aspects of the crime scene, ignoring no details and attributing nothing to chance (following Kant's rational methods of investigation).

However, the magistrate's protracted investigation - his complicated but carefully structured search for the relevant facts through rational inquiry - faces serious obstacles: the curious intersections of lives that are irrationally 'shaped by chance, by coincidence'; widespread paralyzing fear and savage hatred born out of political and military oppression; erratic cooperation between uncomfortably allied enemies; displacement of guilt and postponement of accountability by making scapegoats of an entire stratum of society (the Jewish community); and the untimely (and mysterious) deaths of potentially valuable witnesses. In the end, though, the indefatigable believer in Kant's intellectual approach to rational analysis leads authorities (and readers) to the inescapable truth.

Days of Atonement fulfills its implicit promise to satisfy readers on several levels: it is simultaneously a high-quality mystery, intriguing historical fiction, and an erudite literary novel in which complex characterizations, provocative themes, and pulse-pounding tension combine to make this a powerful tale of crimes and punishments. Don't miss it!

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