Critique of Criminal Reason--Michael Gregorio

NOTE:  R/T, Bea, Ron, you may not want to read what follows the break if you plan to read the book.  While I will try to be discrete, it may prove impossible to discuss the book without giving away some sense of it.

I saw that Fred had recommended this to R/T, and being something of a reader of mysteries, I thought I would take it up myself.  Let me start unabashedly.  Despite some problems I had with the book, which I'll detail below, overall, I enjoyed it tremendously.

The story:  A young magistrate from Nowhere, Germany is summoned by the king to Königsberg to investigate a series of murders that has the town terrorized.  On the even of possible Napoleonic invasion, many officials are convinced that these are the work of terrorists, designed to undermine the morale of the town and make it easy pickings for Napoleon's forces.  As our intrepid investigator looks deeper into the crimes, they begin to proliferate and he finds. . . well, let's not go there.

Possibly one of the more interesting aspects of the novel is the presence of Immanuel Kant (as presaged in the title--to parallel two of the master philosophers most well-known texts.)  Fortunately for us Kant is not the investigator, but, and this is the interesting twist, he does tutor our investigator in all of techniques associated with criminal investigation--thus "creating" a detective.

Before I launch into my comments about some of the problems with the book, let me give my final analysis.  Well written, highly enjoyable--well-drawn characters, some extremely unlikeable, but all a very human mix of likable and unlikable.  The author does a nice job of dealing with the real horror of the crimes and the atmosphere it creates in the city overall.  Finally, this is not "precious" the way some mysteries featuring historical characters are.  It is saved from preciousness by the fact that Kant, while central to the progress of the story is not the central intelligence behind its telling.  I can say, without reservation, that I would gladly take up another novel by the same author.

****  recommended for readers of mysteries, with some small reservations.
Okay,  so, the problems with the novel.

My chief problem is one that I have with a lot of mysteries--essentially it is unresolved.  I don't mean unresolved in the Murder on the Orient Express fashion.  I mean the end is left hanging--perhaps deliberately ambiguous--but if so, a mystery is a bad place to leave the resolution of the story ambiguous, at least as far as the perpetrator.

In point of fact, all of the evidence points to the possibility of at least two people. The investigator leads us down one path and we understand well through the course of the story why he does so.  But the questions really boils down to whodunnit.

The physical evidence is not finally conclusive--or perhaps it is more so than I am thinking because there is the matter of the footprints, and perhaps the ambiguity is more aimed at to whom the moral guilt of this must be imputed.

So, as I say, a very, very minor fault, and perhaps more a fault with my reading than with the text itself.


  1. Steven,

    Very nice review. I agree that Gregorio was right when he kept Kant more or less on the sideline. I have tried to read mysteries in which historical characters are turned into "detectives," and find them uninteresting.
    I do disagree though that the resolution was left open.

    I have read the second book, _Days of Atonement_, and found it equally absorbing. Hanno,once again, undergoes instruction in the art of detecting, this time from a French officer who isn't that interested in the scientific aspect of a crime scene (which Hanno learned from Kant)but is more interested in the suspects and motivation and . . .

    Both do learn from each other.

    By the way, the third novel, _A Visible Darkness_ and the fourth one, _Unholy Awakening_, are out and are resting quietly in my TBR bookcase.

  2. Dear Fred,

    I may have talked myself into your view as I remember one critical element that for some reason (probably all the travel yesterday) I had screened out. Although I do think moral culpability is certainly in question as are the motives of some of the characters for what they do. I dare so no more for fear of spoiling some of the fun.



  3. Steven,

    Yes, there is some ambiguity as to moral responsibility which I was a bit unhappy about, which, like you, I'm reluctant to go into detail about.

    By the way, Kant isn't the only historical figure in the book. Several others involved with Kant in the novel were real people.


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