A mystery novel explores animal rights, human responsibility, and the soul itself.
De Anima is Aristotle’s extended discussion of the human soul. Yet in it, the philosopher also allows for the possibility that animals, with their seemingly rich emotional lives, have souls too. Or so argues Professor Edward Stathakis, the lead in Costanzo’s (The Grand Junction, 2014, etc.) latest book. Edward presents his thesis in an undergraduate philosophy class. Yet when his college’s jackrabbit mascot unexpectedly vanishes a few days later, fears arise that his students have taken Edward’s argument a bit too seriously. The rabbit’s disappearance is just the first of a string of crimes that all seem to contribute to one noble goal: the liberation or protection of newly ensouled birds and beasts. And to save his job—or at least justify his teaching style—Edward embarks on a quest to reveal the perpetrator. (This notion that students might take a philosophy class so seriously is as quaint as it is attractive.) Edward, a bit of a fusty academic, is more George Smiley than Sam Spade, but that’s part of the fun. Like John le Carré before him, Costanzo knows that an improbable hero is often more likely to hold readers’ attention, and Edward does just that. Costanzo is a seasoned author; a journalist with decades of experience and a novelist with multiple books behind him, he knows how to spin a tale. His characters are clearly differentiated and well-developed, and his dialogue is crisp and believable. But his engrossing project holds together so effectively at least in part because its central philosophical and theological questions are so well-defined. Like Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Costanzo’s book is shot through with big, abstract ideas that give the gratifying mystery structure and intellectual weight.
A new take on the gumshoe tale that’s as substantive as it is enjoyable.