Days of Atonement

Written by Michael Gregorio
Review by Peter Prince

Days of Atonement is a follow-up to Critique of Criminal Reason, also by the husband and wife team who write as Michael Gregorio. Like the previous book it is set in the bleak marches of eastern Prussia during the first years of the 19th century. It has the same hero, the taciturn, dogged municipal procurator Hanno Stiffeniis, who is still deeply in love with his comely and fertile wife, Helena. Once again the narrative is enlivened with a contribution—from beyond the grave this time—by the sage of Konigsberg, Hanno’s old teacher, Immanuel Kant, whose lessons in methodical and unprejudiced reasoning the earnest procurator tries to follow as he goes about his investigations.

Some things have changed, though. The earlier book was set at a time when the Prussian State still maintained at least a façade of great power status. Days of Atonement occupies the much more difficult period that resulted from Napoleon’s overwhelming victory at Jena in 1806 and the installation of an occupying force which completed the humiliation of the Prussians.

These French occupiers are portrayed here as rather like Americans of today—individually rather charming and sympathetic, collectively inclined to arrogance and ignorance or contempt for other people’s ways. One of these intruders, a Paris criminologist called Serge Lavedrine, is wished on Hanno. Separately and together they investigate the brutal massacre of three children in the woods not far from the Stiffeniis house and the disappearance of their mother. The unravelling of this mystery and the occasional comic by-play between Hanno and Lavedrine, particularly when the latter deploys his native powers of seduction on Frau Stiffeniis, make for an energetic, involving and well-researched story.