When Jumpin’ Jack, the jackrabbit mascot at Gennesaret Christian College goes missing and a note bearing an enigmatic “(L)” is left at his cage, suspicions immediately focus on the philosophy class of Professor Edward Stathakis. Citing Aristotle’s treatise De Anima (On the Soul) during one of his lectures, the professor had tacked an (L) onto the end of the word anima to stimulate a Socratic dialogue among his students on the question of whether animals have souls. But Edward soon discovers that his simple academic exercise has inflamed imaginations and deep-seated passions that threaten to upend his life and the lives of his students. Caught up in a whirlwind of investigations, revelations and a tragic death, the professor is forced to examine his own philosophy of the meaning of life, animal as well as human.
Plot: Overall, this book is absolutely captivating - it blends philosophy and mystery into a story that feels well-paced and fresh. The somewhat mushy ending might feel unfulfilling to some readers.
Prose/Style: The impeccable spelling and grammar was welcome and delightful. The style was sophisticated, and so smooth that even the most complex topics were easily understood.
Originality: It's easy to find novels where middle-aged professors are solving mysteries or falling into bed with beautiful women. But while the concept wasn't groundbreaking, the author found innovative ways to keep the reader invested and guessing.
Character Development: The majority of the characters were well developed and clearly defined. Yet there were some small bumps in the road: Audrey's email felt like something Edward would write, and the reader is often left wondering why an unrealistic number of women were suddenly trying to sleep with an adjunct professor.
Date Submitted: April 26, 2019
Costanzo jumps right into the story, weaving philosophy and ethical questions into the well-developed and intriguing mystery plot. The sympathetic Stathakis is a worthy underdog protagonist. Passages from his perspective include an alluring element of crisp, hard-boiled description (“Even his tight dome of a beer belly was menacing, like the bronze shield of a Roman gladiator”) that convey his thoughtful bent. Despite his unassuming nature and unhappiness stemming from a devastating divorce, Stathakis is surprisingly tenacious and draws the attention of several women, including Alice, his bohemian girlfriend; Judith Scott, a powerful administrator; and the straight-shooting Det. Janet Ellison. Stathakis’s interactions with other characters, such as an amicable and outgoing neighbor who makes him realize just how little he knows his students, heartwarmingly reveal his changing self-perception and growth.
Although there are dramatic twists, this character-driven story is not for those desiring a brisk whodunit; rather, it’s suited to those who wish to savor Costanzo’s expertise with language. He carefully unspools the story, doling out colorful character descriptions and thought-provoking considerations of the complexity of choices and consequences. This is an enjoyable work for fans of mystery and philosophical debates.
Takeaway: Philosophical connoisseurs of modern-day mysteries will enjoy the sleuthing of this unobtrusive philosophy professor.
Great for fans of Elizabeth Peters, Alexander McCall Smith.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
"Joe Costanzo’s thought-provoking novel, DE ANIMA(L) takes readers into the world of academia, where a professor’s well-intentioned Socratic lecture sparks passion and controversy about animal rights, ultimately causing characters to re-examine their beliefs regarding the value of human and animal life.
When the jittery, overweight jackrabbit mascot at Gennesaret Christian College goes missing, an enigmatic symbol left behind suggests a connection to the new adjunct philosophy professor, Edward Stathakis, and a group of his students. In a recent discussion about Aristotle’s “De Anima” treatise (On the Soul), the professor used the same symbol to stimulate classroom dialogue about whether animals have souls, and their comparative value to human life. As authorities investigate the missing rabbit, the imaginative and surprising plot includes a suspicious fire that destroys a lodge owned by a wealthy benefactor and avid big game hunter, intentional “accidents,” including one that lands Edward in the hospital with a broken leg, and a deadly tragedy.
To bolster sentiments on both sides of the animal controversy, Costanzo offers a wide array of characters—from kind, introspective Edward, to his sometimes dangerously impressionable students, to a self-serving dean and an astute, personable detective. The backdrop of a Christian College provides a minor religious component.
As relief from the chaos, the author offers romantic opportunities for his protagonist, although one such interlude seems a bit contrived. Likewise, the punishment rendered for destructive criminal activity seems too easily plea bargained. (Also, some copyediting errors exist, though none are particularly distracting.)
Fluid dialogue and questioning conversations provide ample opportunity for characters to explain their personal stances on animal rights. Costanzo cleverly brings the story full-circle by re-introducing the four-footed star who unexpectedly proves a saving grace in the final chain of events.
Overall, this is an entertaining read that strikes at the heart of ethical considerations. Edward’s parting words to students at semester’s end are sure to have readers pondering how far they’d go to honor their own convictions."
"Joe Costanzo’s De Anima(L) is a sophisticated, character-driven novel—a blend of a campus mystery with a philosophy professor’s belated education in living.
Edward Stathakis has retired early—from the world. He’s had no serious relationships since his divorce twenty years ago and has spent decades as adjunct professor hopping from gig to gig. His current position at a small Christian college came with the hope of a longer stay and the golden charm of teaching his preferred subject: philosophy. All goes well until an innocuous lecture on ethics inspires animal rights-minded students to liberate the team mascot, a rabbit. Their prank is followed by property destruction, ominous warnings, and the loss of life. Edward finds himself at the center of a career-threatening web that involves campus politics, police interrogation, and the powerful reach of the town’s wealthiest families.
The book is spot on about capturing the pressure-cooker atmosphere of small town college life. It’s even more adept at handling the large and varied cast of characters thrown into the cauldron.When questioned by police, Edward realizes how little he knows about his students. Through Edward’s eyes, eleven different characters are efficiently introduced, also adding to Edward’s characterization through his illuminating his thoughts on each. As the story moves forward, hidden personality traits and a welter of tangled relationships among the students are gradually brought to light.Also in the cast are a gay math professor whose partner is discreetly ignored for fear of putting off donors and whose sister Edward has a tender crush on; a woman detective who is caring but tough, especially where Edward is concerned; and two wealthy patrons whose financial support the college depends on.
Edward is especially well drawn as a man who is winning in his guileless earnestness and sympathetic in his near isolation. Edward is deserving of more than life has thus far given him yet finds contentment in what it has.The book is well paced, delivering twists and surprises that keep pages turning while dropping in new elements that make foregone conclusions impossible.
The plot flows from the characters’ actions and alliances, marred only twice by incidents that seem less than organic. These incidents both involve women who decide Edward is irresistible and work to seduce him, and are out of sync with Edward’s character as well the women’s, coming off as red herrings.
While the who-did-what of the plot holds interest, a rich under-story also emerges. It becomes clear that the same tragedy and misfortune that have turned Edward’s life upside down have also, ironically, cracked open the shell of his circumscribed world. The series of events forces Edward to confront the ethical conundrums and choices he’s previously confronted only in theory. The end, though ambiguous, underscores Edward’s readiness for a new beginning.
De Anima(L) is a rich novel that begins as a tale of campus hijinks and evolves into an exploration of contemporary ambiguities."
Reviewed by Susan Waggoner January 24, 2019
"A mystery novel explores animal rights, human responsibility, and the soul itself.
De Anima is Aristotle’s extended discussion of the human soul. Yet in it,the philosopher also allows for the possibility that animals, with their seemingly rich emotional lives, have souls too. Or so argues Professor Edward Stathakis, the lead in Costanzo’s (The Grand Junction, 2014, etc.) latest book. Edward presents his thesis in an undergraduate philosophy class. Yet when his college’s jackrabbit mascot unexpectedly vanishes a few days later, fears arise that his students have taken Edward’s argument a bit too seriously.
The rabbit’s disappearance is just the first of a string of crimes that all seem to contribute to one noble goal: the liberation or protection of newly ensouled birds and beasts. And to save his job—or at least justify his teaching style—Edward embarks on a quest to reveal the perpetrator. (This notion that students might take a philosophy class so seriously is as quaint as it is attractive.)
Edward, a bit of a fusty academic, is more George Smiley than Sam Spade, but that’s part of the fun. Like John le Carré before him, Costanzo knows that an improbable hero is often more likely to hold readers’ attention, and Edward does just that. Costanzo is a seasoned author; a journalist with decades of experience and a novelist with multiple books behind him, he knows how to spin a tale. His characters are clearly differentiated and well-developed, and his dialogue is crisp and believable.
But his engrossing project holds together so effectively at least in part because its central philosophical and theological questions are so well-defined. Like Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Costanzo’s book is shot through with big, abstract ideas that give the gratifying mystery structure and intellectual weight.
A new take on the gumshoe tale that’s as substantive as it is enjoyable.”