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by Michael Gregorio
St Martin's Minotaur, November 2006
400 pages
ISBN: 0312349947

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

During a cold winter in 1804, detective Hanno Stiffeniis is called from his rural posting to the Prussian city of Konigsberg. Konigsberg is currently a city under siege as an unknown criminal is murdering its citizens. The community believes that their city is being stalked by the Devil as there are no realistic suspects nor does there seem to be an explanation for how the victims died.

Stiffeniis believes that someone high up in the government has requested his assistance but he is wrong. Philosopher Immanuel Kant has brought him to the city for his own purpose. Kant believes that only someone who has looked into a killer's mind can catch this killer. Stiffeniis is the perfect man for the job as his brother died under unexplained circumstances and he feels incredible guilt over the situation.

Kant is aware of Stiffeniis' history and uses this for his own gain. In addition to Stiffeniis' past, Kant believes that their previous relationship will guarantee that he has a place in the investigation. By assisting Stiffeniis, Kant believes he will be able to complete his opus, Critique of Criminal Reason.

Unfortunately there are few witnesses and little practical evidence for Stiffeniis to investigate. He must wait for another victim to appear before he can find a lead. He must also deal with Kant's flights of fancy and the city's fear. The town will not accept a human criminal and insist that the Devil is behind the murders.

Stiffeniis does not have modern forensic science to work with and is forced to use a quack, who claims to be able to speak with the dead. In addition, Kant suffers from an unknown ailment and his behavior is erratic. Even though Stiffeniis does not have any supporters within the city and does not have any clues, he must find the killer before he becomes a victim himself.

CRITIQUE OF CRIMINAL REASON is dark and reflects the world as it is imagined on the brink of the Enlightenment with its advances in society, justice and science. The atmosphere is gloomy and the characters seem to reflect this oppression. This oppression and darkness can be seen in the town's attitude to the killer and in Stiffeniis' investigation. It can be seen in the lack of forensic evidence and the dangerous medical practices of the day.

In CRITIQUE OF CRIMINAL REASON, Gregorio uses a protagonist that embodies the limitations and fears of the pre-Enlightened era. Hanno Stiffeniis is disillusioned with society but is unwilling to bring forth change. A lot of his problems are due to his past experiences and his understanding of society.

His past is explained near the end of the book but would have been more useful to the reader a lot earlier in the story. Being unable to understand his motivation without his history slows the book down. In addition, his blindness towards his idol Immanuel Kant's behavior makes the book frustrating at times. While Kant was one of the great masters of philosophy, his character is not stable in this book. Stiffeniis' inability to see Kant's faults until it is almost too late is aggravating since these flaws are apparent to the reader.

While CRITIQUE OF CRIMINAL REASON does have its flaws, I am optimistic that they will all be corrected in the next book, just so long as Gregorio can maintain his balance between philosophical history and adventure novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, September 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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