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Prussia has been overrun by Napoleon's forces, and the Emperor's troops have discovered a new source of funds there: enough amber to finance France's wars. But their plans stall when the girls who collect the stones begin to disappear, only to be found gruesomely disfigured by an unknown killer. The French call upon Prussian investigator Hanno Stiffeniis, who must seek out the culprit knowing hat his own success may doom his country's future. Dark, intelligent, and vividly written, A Visible Darkness continues a masterful series of historical mysteries that portray a past torn between nationalism and humanism, superstition and science.
Set in 1808, the superb third whodunit from the pseudonymous Gregorio (the husband-wife team of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio) to feature Prussian magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis (after 2008's Days of Atonement) subtly probes the heart of human darkness. When a woman who collects precious amber, a resource Napoleon hopes to use to generate funds, is horribly butchered, Stiffeniis must work for his French occupiers to solve the mystery. As more victims follow the first, Stiffeniis's hopes of a speedy resolution that would enable him to be present for his latest child's birth are dashed. Aided by Johannes Gurten, an odd apprentice who's adopted Buddhism, the sleuth attempts to get cooperation from those working at all levels of the amber trade to identify the killer's true motive. While some readers will anticipate the solution, the pitch-perfect evocation of the period and the compelling, gloomy atmosphere more than compensate for any lack of surprise.