People (American friends, as a rule) often ask. “When can we see the film?” We smile at each other and say, “They’re still thinking about it.” To be honest, the thought of anyone making a movie featuring a country magistrate who works in early nineteenth century Prussia is so improbable that we decided to let ourselves go and have fun with the casting. Our novels are set in such a remote time (the Napoleonic Wars), and in such a forgotten historical context (Prussia, a country which no longer exists), that Hollywood would not be at all interested in the screenplay (written especially for us by the late Paddy Chayefsky, by the way). Limited neither by possibility, probability or mortality, and given that our novels are gruesome crime tales, we feel free to range through a number of unlikely possibilities regarding the total improbability of anything ever coming of the project. Please note, we pity the movie-maker (Federico Fellini? Fritz Lang?) who gets the job. Prussia was home to the Brothers Grimm and E.T.A. Hoffman, the stamping ground of Immanuel Kant, the philosopher. It had a vast standing army that militarised the entire country until Napoleon turned up and walked all over it to the utter humiliation of all good Prussians. How do you create a country and a time that no longer exist? We would go for what we created, rather than what we managed to re-create. So, our movie world would embrace the realms of serial murder, social satire and cartoon animation as much as serious drama. A bit like Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm 2005 film, really.... Now, that’s a thought. Would Terry be open to offers? They say he has a house in Italy not far from where we live, and he did win a couple of Academy awards... He has to accept, however, that we want a digital setting based on new Walt Disney drawings and coloured cels similar in style and colour to the ones that Walt used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A number of Walt’s characters could be brought out of the cupboard, dusted off, and adapted for use. It would save Walt time, and also save the studio all lot of money. Snow White herself could play our heroine, Edviga, who works as a humble amber gatherer on the Baltic sea-shore, though Snow would have to slim down quite a bit, grow a foot (height-wise, of course) wear a blonde wig, dress up in heavy leather weather-alls and labour in the sea in winter – the Baltic may be blue, but it’s damned cold. Several of the dwarfs could be drafted in as representatives of the Prussian army, too: Snoopy as a private, Droopy as a general. Or vice versa... Our main characters, Hanno Stiffenniis and his wife, Helena, would work with any decent real life or movie husband and wife team, so let’s say Bogart-Bacall, Grant-Hepburn, Burton-Taylor, Astaire-Rogers – it hardly matters. We are only looking at a template, and we want to offer them long-term commitment, casting them through Books 1 to 4 at ages ranging through 26 to 31. We’ll end up animating (or should we say re-animating) our featured couple, in any case. Maybe Fred and Ginger if we go for the musical. Regarding the music, well “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho! It’s off to work we go” would not be appropriate. Maybe a brand new piece by Gustav Mahler (something like the Tenth Symphony but with more brio), or a previously unpublished fantasia-opera pastiche by piano-whiz Franz Liszt... How does that sound, movie-goers? We hear the dollars rolling in.
Michael Gregorio, A Visible Darkness
The third installment of the adventures of Hanno Stiffeniis, a Prussian magistrate during the Napoleonic occupation of what is now Germany.
Can I just state, for the record, how fucking stupid these books all are? I read a couple of blurbs snarking about how they were “thinking people’s” mysteries, but my God. MY GOD, Y’ALL. No, they are not. The presence of obscure history and existential angst DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MAKE SOMETHING DEEP. Especially not when your main character is a moronic blank.
And now we will cut, because I cannot rant without spoilers, spoilers, SPOILERS!
Hokay, so: A Visible Darkness starts off the way most of Hanno’s adventures do—he’s puttering around in his little town with his eight million children when suddenly an official shows up and says, “There’s been a heinous murder. We heard you’re good at solving those, even though you have never actually solved one on your own, ever. Come along, the corpse isn’t getting any fresher.” In this case, a young amber-gatherer has been slaughtered: the murderer took her jaw. Later, Hanno finds another young woman half-eaten in a pig-sty; the killer cut out her larynx before letting the pigs have their share. Oh, and for extra ickiness, a piece of amber is found shoved up the first girl’s hoo-ha. And did I mention that there’s a woman with progeria running around, and that she looks about 10 but is actually 22 and MAKES HER LIVING AS A PROSTITUTE/AMBER SMUGGLER?
Yeah, this book was hella gross. And really stupid. When you finally find out why the killer was murdering all these women, it’s just like, “Huh what?” Mostly because instead of going, “This shit is fucked up, yo,” the authors try to make it mean something about the Prussian soul or whatnot, and really, guys, he’s making giant wax figure of the perfect woman and is fully convinced that doctors will be able to animate her. HE’S NUTS, OKAY. Also, that is just ridiculous. Come on.
Oh, and as for Hanno? He continues to never see anything coming, ever. I knew who the murderer was within about fifty pages of the ending (not good, authors), but Hanno was still stubbornly clinging to an earlier suspect, even though that suspect made no sense. The murderer was switching between two kill sites—first one city, then the other. Obviously, he had to be a highly mobile individual whose absence wouldn’t be much commented on, and yet Hanno suspected…the village doctor. Because that made SO MUCH SENSE.
Meanwhile, the random guy who showed up halfway through the book claiming to be an apprentice magistrate? The guy no one had ever heard of and who was very willing to not be seen by any officials? Yeah, Hanno thought that guy was perfectly safe. Hanno even sent him to go visit his PREGNANT WIFE AND THREE SMALL CHILDREN.
Oh, and Hanno’s not just wrong about the identity of the murderer: when he feels like being wrong, he feels like being REALLY wrong. He actually spends the last 20 pages of the book racing home to face a threat that doesn’t exist.
Guys, I like plenty of mysteries wherein the lead character is not exactly Sherlock Holmes. But I like them because no one ever claims that they’re particularly good at what they do. Hanno, on the other hand, is talked up by everyone, and really? He’s never solved a case on his own. Never. Also, he has no personality to speak of. The end.
Recommended for: Nobody. EVER.