Written by Claudia Gross
Review by Sue Asher

The Toby Press is an independent publisher whose purpose is to produce fine literary and commercial fiction and, in addition, to bring works of outstanding writers into English. With Scholarium, translated from the original German, the press has certainly achieved those goals.

Set in Cologne, Germany, in 1413, this dark mystery opens with a murder, but it is more than a simple whodunit. The dead man is Frederico Cassall, one of the Masters of the Seven Liberal Arts at the scholarium. The suspects include the students, the other members of the Faculty, and even the victim’s beautiful and learned young wife. While one of the other Faculty Masters is assigned to investigate the crime and interpret the cryptic messages left by the murderer, there is no one brilliant detective at work. Instead, each of the suspects, philosophers all, contributes to the search, intertwining their thoughts on the motives of the killer with discussions of the teachings of Thomas Aquinas.

This is not a light work, yet it is surprisingly readable, never becoming bogged down in its own intellectual debates. The reader is likely to solve the mystery long before the culprit confesses, but this does not detract from the unfolding of the story since, as the prologue warns, “in this city everyone had a secret.” In Scholarium, whodunit is only a small part of the fascinating tale.