In turbulent 19th-century Prussia, a magistrate is summoned from his country refuge to solve a heinous multiple murder.
Man of letters and narrator Hanno Stiffeniis and his wife Helena attend Count Aldebrand Dittersdorf’s annual ball with reservations. In the year since the previous gala, the French army led by Napoleon has taken control of Prussia, and Stiffeniis and Helena live in a kind of exile. At the ball, Stiffeniis is drawn into a heated discussion on the work of Immanuel Kant, with whom he studied and later collaborated in solving a baffling murder (Critique of Criminal Reason, 2006). His beloved mentor, who advocated psychological as well as forensic analysis, has been dead less than a year. Now the Count’s exchange with a sneering colonel named Lavedrine leaves him wondering about his safety under the new regime, a feeling heightened hours later when Lavedrine and some soldiers rouse him from sleep and whisk him away to a remote cabin where three children and their mother have been brutally murdered. Colonel Lavedrine, who’s interested in both Kant and criminology, will supervise Stiffeniis’s investigation, which constantly threatens to affront political sensitivities. The victims are the wife and children of Bruno Gottewald, a Prussian soldier stationed on the Russian front. There Stiffeniis must venture, endangering both himself and the family he leaves behind.
Gregorio’s ambitious second novel successfully suggests the rococo fiction of its era.