BookBrowse Reviews A Visible Darkness by Michael Gregorio

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

A Visible Darkness

A Mystery

by Michael Gregorio

A Visible Darkness by Michael Gregorio X
A Visible Darkness by Michael Gregorio
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2009, 464 pages
    Apr 2011, 464 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
Buy This Book

About this Book



Philosophy and chemistry run amok in this intelligent, compelling historical thriller

Chief among the many gifts the husband and wife writing team of Michael G Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio bring to this atmospheric thriller is the ability to deliver the environment of Prussia's Baltic Coast in 1808 as a living, breathing, odiferous locale. Indeed, it is fair to say I spent a good deal of the time reading this novel with my nose wrinkled. But that is a good thing, since the effect not only enhances a sense of place but brings the summer of 1808 to the forefront to the extent that it becomes its own vibrant character. At the outset it interacts with Magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis as he dodges flies attracted to the dung mounds that clog the roads in his tiny hamlet. It even interferes with his wife Helena's sleep when she dreams that one of those cursed flies has crawled into her baby's mouth.

But that's just the beginning. Throughout, the hot weather, the frigid ocean, the fetid air of neglect that pervades since the French have all but ravaged Prussia intermingle with and alter the circumstances surrounding the grisly murders Stiffeniis has been ordered to solve. With only rudimentary tools and limited investigative resources he is forced to deal with elements that cloud people's memories, natural environments – both outdoors and in – that blur or obscure critical details and exhaustive, time-consuming travel conditions that impede his progress at every turn. In all, between the mud, the waste, the offal and the foods with questionable expiration dates, 1808 Prussia seems like the last place anybody would want to conduct a murder investigation.

As if all that weren't enough, Magistrate Stiffeniis knows he has been set up – if not to fail, at the very least to deliver a conveniently guilty Prussian into the hands of Napoleon's army. One day he's collecting dung samples to bolster his case that Napoleon's army is endangering the Prussian people's health, the next he is en route to the coast by special request of a high ranking French officer. The officer needs a scapegoat for the murder of a young Prussian woman - the first in what becomes series of killings. His next in command, Colonel les Halles, is afraid the murders will jeopardize his plans for glory via an amber-harvesting machine that will displace the girls. The girls, at the bottom of this power food chain and who previously just wanted to make some money and maybe escape the hazardous job of mining for amber, now want to avoid being murdered themselves. In the middle of all this Stiffeniis stands alone as a beacon of enlightened thought who wants simply to get to the bottom of the murders.

While the sights, sounds and smells of 1808 threaten to boil over, the dynamic surrounding the two disenfranchised groups (the Prussians and the amber mining girls) and the conquering French simmers on another storytelling burner. The situation is further complicated by the fact that these are not the best of the French forces - they have been reluctantly posted to Prussia in order to keep the Prussian rebels in check and acquire enough amber to finance Napoleon's efforts to subjugate Spain, so he can move on to Russia. So, in their own way, even the French soldiers are disenfranchised.

On the front burner the mystery of the murdered mining girls steps lively amid the searing heat and the politics, taking a twist here, a turn or two there – including a 19th Century slo-mo (by 21st Century standards) chase and enough harrowing moments to keep a reader on the edge of the seat.

Reviewed by Donna Chavez

This review was originally published in April 2009, and has been updated for the April 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Baltic Amber & Prussia

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The World According to Fannie Davis
    The World According to Fannie Davis
    by Bridgett M. Davis
    Devoted daughter Bridgett M. Davis was always inspired by her mother Fannie, who provided stability,...
  • Book Jacket: Territory of Light
    Territory of Light
    by Yuko Tsushima
    Set in Tokyo during the late 1970s, Yūko Tsushima's Territory of Light chronicles a year in the...
  • Book Jacket: Unmarriageable
    by Soniah Kamal
    Soniah Kamal makes no secret of the fact that her novel Unmarriageable is a retelling of Jane Austen...
  • Book Jacket: The Paragon Hotel
    The Paragon Hotel
    by Lyndsay Faye
    Lyndsay Faye's arresting The Paragon Hotel focuses on how disparate groups of marginalized people ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
by Michelle Obama

An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Lost Man
    by Jane Harper

    A stunning standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Night Tiger
    by Yangsze Choo

    "Wonderfully combines a Holmes-esque plot with Chinese lore."
    --PW, starred review
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Cherokee America

Cherokee America
by Margaret Verble

An epic novel from the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist Maud's Line.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

P C, Absolute P C A

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.