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A Visible Darkness Paperback – 4 Mar 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (4 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571237886
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571237883
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 535,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

A Visible Darkness, by Michael Gregorio, is the gripping new Prussian mystery, following the investigation into a psychotic serial killer.

About the Author

Michael Gregorio are Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio. She teaches philosophy. He is interested in the history of photography in the nineteenth century. They have been married for over twenty-five years and live in Spoleto, a small town in central Italy. Days of Atonement, their second novel, followed Critique of Criminal Reason. A Visible Darkness is the third novel in the Hanno Stiffeniis series

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Catherine on 22 July 2009
Format: Hardcover
Having read the other two books in this series I eagerly anticipated the third. It did not disappoint. Yet again the descriptive narrative is so good I could feel the chill coming off the Baltic, smell the pig sty and try to bat away the flies. The information on the history of the amber trade was so compelling that I am looking for books on the same.
One small irritation for me, at least. I really felt that the authors wrapped up the book too quickly and the information relayed at the end would have been better presented as part of the events, rather than being reported at the end by Hanno. It was almost as though the authors were fed up with writing and sought a literary device whereby they could end the tale quickly.
In general a great read and I cannot wait for the next book. in what I hope will be a long series.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By GBAL VINE VOICE on 27 April 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was recommended to me by a friend and I decided to read it despite it being book three in a series and I have not read the first two books. It's not something I normally do but the plot of this one sounded interesting to me and also I had problems finding the first two books available. I thought it was very well written and the plot moved at a good pace. I liked the setting and the time period and I actually learned a few things about that time period that I didn't know already. It did keep me guessing for a while as to who the murderer was and why but I did work it out before the end. I have bought the next book in the series Unholy Awakening which also sounded intriguing.
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Format: Paperback
I've quite enjoyed the other two books in the series featuring Hanno Stiffenis. The plots are good, the writing is good, there is an excellent sense of time and place ion all three books; I enjoyed the background to this one, the amber trade in the Baltic. Why the three stars you say? The books really are a bit grisly and this one even more so than the others I feel. Off puttingly so in fact; I've got a strong stomach (I finished the Red Riding quartet, after all) but these can cross the line into revolting; the descriptions of the characters, the setting and the murders. I do realise that for some this realism might add to the attraction and I have enjoyed the books overall; hence the three stars. But the relentless gore and dirt is a bit depressing after a while.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 13 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant New Historical Fiction 28 April 2009
By Robert Abidor - Published on
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Unusual setting, well-drawn atmosphere 20 April 2009
By corglacier7 - Published on
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.

The first decade of the nineteenth century is keenly drawn, and modern readers will probably find themselves being thankful for the benefits of modern medicine and hygiene more than once. Gregorio's use of Prussia, a rare fictional setting, and Prussian culture and identity at a period of upheaval and change in German history, gives the series a real shine. The crimes are gruesomely vivid, providing urgency to the narrative. Amber, as a valued commodity, a work of art, and a Prussian cultural resource and pride, plays its own vital role in the tale.

The details are sharp and the mood is gloomy and heavy, well representative of horrid acts committed in a subjugated nation. "A Visible Darkness" doesn't make for easy reading, but it's an intense, compelling book that's well worth the time.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Murder in Napoleon's Prussia 18 Aug. 2009
By Lynn Harnett - Published on
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.

The amber workers are rural women, young, strong and hardy, sequestered in camps by the French, who they easily elude. Girls are always disappearing. Many run off with a smuggled cache of amber but some are rumored to have met a more gruesome fate, like the naked, mutilated corpse of the girl found on the beach.

Gregorio (pseudonym of the husband-and-wife team of Michael G. Jacob and Daniella De Gregorio) spins an atmospheric tale of murder and twisted psyches. The mutilations of murdered girls are not for the squeamish but when a girl's corpse turns up in a pigsty, well, the description of this particular pig farm is among the most viscerally revolting things I have ever read. Which is not a criticism. It's disgusting, yes, but really well done. You will feel the miasma of the place coating your tongue.

Anyway, Hanno acquires an assistant, a strange young man with an aristocratic air and Buddhist eccentricities. Is he to be trusted? And more importantly, will Hanno get home for the birth of his fourth child? Will his beloved Helena be safe from the wrath of Prussian zealots who regard Hanno's labors for the French as treasonous?

Fans will find Hanno more appealing than ever, even as Prussia itself seems to sink beneath the mire of French occupation. Newcomers will likely seek out the earlier books, "Critique of Criminal Reason," and "Days of Atonement," recently released in paperback.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"There will be no room for sentiment, no space for conscience." 11 Jun. 2009
By E. Bukowsky - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"A Visible Darkness," by Michael Gregorio (the pen name of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio), is set in Prussia during the French occupation of 1808. The dramatic opening chapter, in which the author describes a horde of flies, beetles, and ants that are infesting the filthy town of Lotingen, foreshadows far more gruesome scenes to come. The weather is stifling and enemy troops have deposited tons of refuse throughout the town: "French horses fouled our streets, as did the cows and the sheep that fed the troops. If an animal dropped dead, they left it there to rot." The only respite from the stench is to stay at home with the widows tightly shut.

The protagonist and narrator is Procurator Hanno Stiffeniis, whose beloved wife Helena is expecting their fourth child. Much to his consternation, Hanno is ordered by the imperious French commander, General Louis-Georges Malaport, to investigate a series of grisly murders near the Baltic coast. This is very bad news: First, Hanno will have to leave his wife and children shortly before Helena is due to give birth; second, he fears that his Prussian compatriots will brand him as a French collaborator; and third, Hanno knows that he will be under enormous pressure to produce quick results, since the occupiers have an ulterior motive in wanting the crimes solved as soon as possible.

The French are obsessed with amber, a precious commodity that they are pillaging from the Prussians. Desperately poor women are working under deplorable conditions to extract the amber from the sea and prepare it for export: "In their gleaming leather garments, each one holding up a spear or net on a long pole, they looked like insects, their antennae twitching defensively as if they feared to be attacked." The French want to procure as much of this precious substance as possible in order to fund Napoleon's ambitious military campaigns. For some reason, an unknown perpetrator is murdering and mutilating female amber workers and leaving their savaged bodies where they can easily be found. The French fear that Prussian rebels may be involved and, if so, they want to catch the predators and stop the carnage.

During Hanno's fruitless search for the killer, he learns more than he wishes to know about greed, slave labor, and the twisted mind of a madman. He examines mutilated corpses, searches for evidence, interviews persons of interest, and even discovers a tenuous connection between this case and the teachings of his former mentor, the great philosopher Immanuel Kant. His inquiries will put Hanno in physical danger and bring him into contact with a psychotic individual who dispatches his victims with coldhearted brutality. What is the criminal's motive? Is there any connection between these deeds and the illegal theft and smuggling of amber? As his task becomes increasingly difficult and frustrating, Hanno fears that he is chasing a phantom.

Unfortunately, at four hundred and fifty pages, "A Visible Darkness" is a bit too verbose; judicious editing would have made Gregorio's story more readable and improved its pacing. Still, the evocative prose and well-researched geographical and historical information enrich the narrative greatly. The setting and characters are impeccably drawn; we find ourselves immersed in the atmosphere of this embattled European territory in the early nineteenth century. Hanno is an engaging and well-spoken hero who faces a ruthless and formidable foe. The author explores a number of intriguing and thought-provoking themes, including the dangers of religious and nationalistic zealotry, the cruelty of Napoleon's soldiers towards their underlings, the uses and abuses of scientific knowledge, and the ruthless exploitation of women. Readers who are willing to wade through "A Visible Darkness" will be amply rewarded for their patience.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By VICKY - Published on
First you have to through chapter one..maybe skip it..then you enter a great world of Prussia, the death of women who collect amber for the French, the Prussian magistrate..his helper (who appears from nowhere)..unfriendly townspeople and the Magistrate's obligation to solve 2 murders in a world driven to hiding alot..reminds me of S. J. Sansome's fascinating historical fiction. Such a good read..I'm hoping Gregorio will continue to write mysteries.
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