Unholy Awakening

Unholy Awakening

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by Michael Gregorio
     
 

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A woman's body has been found at the bottom of a well. The death wounds are startling: two small, round punctures to the jugular vein. . . .

Vampire fever is spreading throughout the countryside, and suspicions soon fall on the recently arrived Emma Rimmele. Investigator Hanno Stiffeniis must do everything he can to find the true culprit before the mob's

Overview

A woman's body has been found at the bottom of a well. The death wounds are startling: two small, round punctures to the jugular vein. . . .

Vampire fever is spreading throughout the countryside, and suspicions soon fall on the recently arrived Emma Rimmele. Investigator Hanno Stiffeniis must do everything he can to find the true culprit before the mob's hysteria reaches its breaking point and turns violent.

Set in a nineteenth-century world where people truly believed in vampires, Unholy Awakening pits rational, scientific detection against unhindered, violent superstition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the start of Gregorio's stellar fourth historical featuring Prussian magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis (after 2009's A Visible Darkness), Hanno and his wife are struggling to go on after an epidemic in their hometown of Lotingen claims the life of their infant son. When the body of seamstress Angela Enke turns up at the bottom of a well with two circular wounds in her neck, Hanno sets aside his grief to investigate. His efforts to interrogate the enigmatic Emma Rimmele, the victim's employer and a newcomer to the town, are derailed by his attraction to her. Meanwhile, the locals leap to the conclusion that a vampire is responsible for the murder, and that Angela herself will soon rise from her grave to prey on them. Once again, Gregorio (the pen name of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio) conjures up a pervasive atmosphere of fear and menace, while using the plot line to provide insights into the mind and heart of his complicated lead. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“What fertile ground 19th-century Prussia provides for the vampire theme in Gregorio's fourth outstanding historical! Written in the understated and often leisurely tradition of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, this mystery pits the rational scholarly thought of the day against ancient superstition. For historical fans seeking a page-turner with bite.” —Library Journal

“Once again Gregorio (the pen name of Michal G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio) conjures up a pervasive atmosphere of fear and menace, while using the plot line to provide insights into the heart and mind of his complicated lead.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Maintains suspense and an authentic period feel throughout.” —Kirkus Reviews

“One of those books that any true fan of historical crime fiction will love. Characters are fascinating, the setting superb, and the deduction is highly intelligent, and it's done perfectly true to the history.” —The Globe and Mail (Canada) on A Visible Darkness

“Gregorio again demonstrates a rare gift for constructing a compelling whodunit rich with the kinds of psychological insights typical of the work of such contemporary crime masters as Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Days of Atonement

“Sherlock Holmes himself would struggle to keep up with the master sleuth Gregorio brings to life . . .in this compelling historical mystery.” —Booklist (starred review) on Critique of Criminal Reason

“Maintains suspense and an authentic period feel throughout.” —Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
When the body of a woman, marked with suspicious puncture wounds in her neck, is found at the bottom of a well, fear rises among the citizens of Lotingen, Prussia. The investigation is in the hands of Hanno Stiffeniis (A Visible Darkness), but the authority lies with Napoleon's occupying French army. Soon it is revealed that more victims, including three French officers, have died in a similar manner. Stiffeniis and his friend Lavedrine, a man of rank and ability in the army, must find the killer before the superstitious villagers turn against the beautiful Emma Rimmele, who's renting the house where the first body was found. What fertile ground 19th-century Prussia provides for the vampire theme in Gregorio's fourth outstanding historical! Written in the understated and often leisurely tradition of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, this mystery pits the rational scholarly thought of the day against ancient superstition. VERDICT For historical fans seeking a page-turner with bite. [Library marketing.]
Kirkus Reviews

Could the serial killer terrorizing the village of Lotingen be a vampire?

Procurator Hanno Steffeniis has witnessed multiple tragedies in his small town, including a pack of murderous dogs and the horrible death of his baby son Anders during a wave of illness sweeping 18th-century Prussia. Now comes an equally ominous tragedy. At the bottom of an unused well is found the body of young seamstress Angela Enke of neighboring Krupeken. The well is on the property of beautiful and enigmatic Emma Rimmele, a newcomer to the village, for whom Angela worked occasionally. Stiffeniis' stolid assistant Knutzen and a handful of village men are needed to retrieve the corpse. Both the extreme effort used to conceal the body and the two punctures on the neck are curious and worrisome. Stiffeniis wishes to keep this last detail under wraps lest the imagination of the superstitious populace run wild. Angela's angry mother talks vaguely of her daughter's depression and her consorting with women of low morals. Stiffeniis, whose wife Helena has not been the same since Anders' death, meets with Emma Rimmele privately and feels both an affinity and a guilty attraction to her. Scarcely has he sorted out his thoughts than there's a second victim, the sexton Lars Merson. His puncture wounds are the same as Angela's, but his cassock has also been ripped open and an iron spike driven through his heart.

Stiffeniis' fourth case (A Visible Darkness, 2009, etc.) may be excessively florid, but it maintains suspense and an authentic period feel throughout.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312625023
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
09/28/2010
Series:
Hanno Stiffeniis Mysteries Series , #4
Pages:
464
Product dimensions:
7.68(w) x 11.28(h) x 1.22(d)

Read an Excerpt

Unholy Awakening

 

Chapter 1

Fear is the price we pay for crime.

Did I read this aphorism in a book? Did someone recite it for me? Or was it an invention of my own making? I don’t remember any more. So much happened during the two months when the epidemic was raging, that it was hard to be precise about anything. The fever carried off a third of the population of Lotingen. Like the rude cry of a hungry crow, those words echoed in my head whenever I saw the first signs of illness on faces that I knew and loved.

Lotte burst into the kitchen one morning, eyes wide with fright. The baby was in a dreadful sweat, she said. His eyes were open, but little Anders was unable to wake. Hour after hour we sat beside his cot, Helena and I, while Lotte kept the house and watched for signs of illness in the other children.

The doctor came and went, shaking his head. ‘Nervous fever’ was his diagnosis. He could offer no prognosis. The child was in the ‘slow’ phase, only time would tell what the out come would be.

Anders responded to no-one. Not even to his mother. The fever was raging, it continued to rise while his pulse grew weaker. Within two days his face had altered beyond recognition. His once-blue eyes sank deep inside his skull, losing their colour and freshness. His pupils became opaque at last, his gaze fixed. Each bone in his body grew more pronounced. He had been a chubby baby, but now he was a rasping skeleton. His breathing was irregular, some times racing, at other times almost absent. He seemed to slowly fade away. ‘Consumed’ was the word I would have used, if only I had had the courage to pronounce it. The illness seemed to eat the baby up, and, when it had had its fill, his breathing stopped.

Fear took the place of every other emotion.

Fear for my wife, fear for my children, fear for our friends and neighbours.

…the price we pay for crime.

The phrase rang like a death-knell in my head. But what was the crime we were paying for? And who had committed it? The baby had been too young to sin, yet he had paid with his life. Nor were we the only parents to have lost a child. The fever carried off individuals of every age – from the youngest to the very oldest. Was Lotingen to blame, then? Had the town been condemned to pay for sins unknown and unconfessed?

We buried the baby on the second Thursday of July.

A week later, the worst of the epidemic was over.

But the crime, whatever it might have been, had not been paid in full. Fear persisted, death still knocked occasionally, it would not set us free. I was alarmed by every little upset. Nor could Helena be cured of it. And then, I heard the noise which would come to epitomise my fear that summer, though it had nothing to do with death, or with dying.

A long, low, whooping howl.

I was in my bed, but I was not asleep. I had been half-awake for a long time, lying still, trying not to disturb Helena. My wife needed sleep and the restoration of her spirits after the bereavement. All was quiet in the house, and in the garden, too, but then I heard that noise. I shifted my foot beneath the sheet, searching for the foot of Helena. Her skin was warm and soft; she did not respond to my touch. She was fast asleep. No dream had frightened her that night, or driven her from our bed.

I laid my head flat upon the pillow, straining to hear.

All was silent and still.

Had one of the children made that noise?

I drew the sheet aside, slipped down off the high bed, and made my way barefoot onto the landing. I felt a choking in my throat, as if I could neither swallow nor breathe. Had one of the children caught the fever? They had seen their baby brother die, while they had been spared. Had the nightmare struck again? I would not wake Helena before I was absolutely certain.

I opened the nursery door. A glance was sufficient. All three were sleeping peacefully in their beds beneath the shaded nightlight. And it was in that instant that I heard the low, rumbling howl again. It was coming from the garden, not the mouths of my children. Nor from any human mouth.

I closed the door, darted down the staircase, keeping close to the wall, avoiding the third stair which cracks like a musket being fired.

In the entrance hall, I froze.

On either side of the stout oak door, there is a narrow honeycomb of tiny glass octagons set in a lead frame. I pressed up close to the honeycomb window, staring out.

There were five dogs in the garden.

Almost invisible in the dark, except for the shining red lights of their eyes, they were no more than a yard from my front door.

Seeing me, they bared their fangs and began to growl.

I had heard one voice before. Now, it was a chorus.

Wild dogs had taken possession of my garden, laid siege to my house. If hungry, why had they ignored the compost-heap on the kitchen side of the house? I had seen Lotte drop the remains of a boiled chicken out there that afternoon. Had something else drawn them to my front door? The gleaming panes of glass, perhaps? I had forgotten to close and lock the shutters.

Were they trying to enter?

As I pressed my nose to the glass, I could see the dogs more clearly. They leapt forward, snarling, saliva dripping from their tongues. Their fangs were yellow, pointed. The growl became a howl, as they jostled for position in front of the window. They were not afraid of me. They might have been baiting me, daring me to open the door and let them in.

My thoughts flew back to the epidemic.

Packs of stray dogs had been reported at the time. At first, the idea had been dismissed as nonsense. When we are subject to an enemy that we cannot see, we find an object which is evident to every man. All hate turns upon that object, all of our energy is consumed in condemning it. The fever was invisible, deadly; stray dogs were a visible threat. They could be shot. Then, Hans Hube was killed. Up at dawn to quarter a calf; they found the butcher’s body several hours later. The doctor had been hard put to say which bones were his, and which belonged to the slaughtered calf.

These thoughts were dashed from my mind in an instant.

One of the dogs leapt at the window, breaking a pane of glass.

I jumped back, suppressing a cry that would have awakened the whole house. I had seen the dog rear back, but had not expected the attack which followed. Only the lead frame had repulsed it. I had never seen such aggression. A hungry hound is abject, eager to please. It will carry a pheasant to the hunter and accept a biscuit as a reward. This animal, instead, was bold. Savage. Its snout caught the moon light as it smashed the glass. A spraying black fan of blood was torn from its nose, splattering and dripping on the remaining panes of glass.

The dog fell back, denied.

A moment later, it was charging for the gate. And in its wake the other dogs careered. It was as if the house had withstood the test. The dogs had tried to enter, and they had failed. Colliding in a pack at the narrow exit of the garden gate, they yelped and snapped among themselves, forming some predestined order of withdrawal.

In a matter of seconds, the danger was over.

A cloud passed from the face of the moon, silver light fell on the grass, dark shadows loomed from overhanging trees and bushes. The garden was empty, though I heard them in the distance howling, the sound diminishing as they charged away.

I stood there, unable to move or think until I heard them no more.

Nothing moved inside the house. Helena, Lotte and the children had slept through it. Suddenly, a gasp erupted from my throat. Sweat dripped from my forehead and ran down my back in rivulets, despite the night-time chill.

The dogs had returned to Lotingen.

When the fever was at its height, they had been drawn to town by the all-pervading smell of death. I stood guard by the broken window for quite some time, ears straining to catch the slightest sound, the smallest hint that the beasts had returned.

My bare feet ached with the cold.

Had the dogs smelt death that night in Lotingen?

 

 

 

UNHOLY AWAKENING. Copyright © 2010 by Michael Gregorio. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

Meet the Author

Michael Gregorio is the pen name of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio. She teaches philosophy; he teaches English. They live in Spoleto, Italy. Michael Gregorio was awarded the Umbria del Cuore prize in 2007.

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Unholy Awakening 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Lotingen, Prussia, the female corpse is pulled from a well near the home of Emma Rimmele. To everyone's shock and fear, she has suspicious bite marks on her neck. Hanno Stiffeniis leads the investigation with Napoleon's occupying force agents watching his every move. Hanno learns that three French officers and several locals recently died with similar marks on their necks. The angry superstitious villagers believe Emma is a vampire and a mob mentality is becoming frantic with staking and burning her before she bites them. Stiffeniis and his friend Lavedrine continue their inquiry knowing a tragedy will occur if they do not ferret out the real human serial killer soon. The latest Hanno Stiffeniis historical investigative thriller (see Days of Atonement and A Visible Darkness) is a great entry as the inquiry is fun to follow especially with Napoleonic agents watching the sleuth's every step. The leisurely pace enhances the sense of being in early nineteenth century Prussia as Hanno applies deductive and inductive logic in his efforts to solve the homicide while most of the locals fear the outbreak of a vampire feeding frenzy. Harriet Klausner