I'm delighted that J. Sydney Jones sent a PDF of this book to me for review. It is the third in a series of mystery novels set in historic Vienna, a city Jones lived in for some time years ago. The fact that I hadn't read the first two was no barrier to enjoyment of this one, but certainly convinced me that I must read the others very soon. They are, in order: The Empty Mirror and Requiem in Vienna, both published last year. I should add that these are print books with gorgeous covers appropriate to the setting.
Attorney and private inquiries agent (private detective) Karl Werthen is the protagonist but by no means alone in his investigations. His wife Berthe is one of my favorite characters, so level-headed, patient, and fully invested in each case. She gives him fresh eyes and good ideas. Another partner in solving the crime is a real person, Dr. Hanns Gross who was the father of criminology. He is gruff and abrupt with people but has a better grasp of the issues than anyone else.
In addition to his case, Werthen is beset by family squabbles involving his orthodox father-in-law, and his snobbish parents who apparently don't credit Werthen and his wife with the good sense to take care of their baby daughter, the apple of Werthen's eye. Leave it to the grandparents to muddy the waters when the first grandchild is born.
Werthen is at first hired to find a wealthy family's oldest son. As he goes to their mansion we learn one of the many things about 1900 Vienna that make this book so charming and interesting to read. The wife has a migraine, so city workers have been dispatched to spread straw on the street to muffle the sound of horses' hooves. There are descriptions of homes, the architecture of city buildings, the sounds and smells of the city, and the Vienna Woods. We also learn of the anti-Semitism rampant in the city so long before WW II, and the great gulf between the rich and the poor.
At the same time, a councilman who is second in power only to Mayor Karl Lueger (who has visions of undermining the rule of Emperor Franz Josef) has apparently committed suicide in his office. Werthen becomes involved in that case as well and finds himself and his family in great danger.
Two of my favorite characters are two young boys, one a son of the wealthy family, the other a street urchin that Werthen's legal assistant wants to adopt. The boys become unlikely friends. I liked both of them immensely.
I find it difficult to tell you much about the story, partly because there are several plotlines, but also because I don't want to give anything away. Let me just say that it is a great story told by an author who is capable of putting the reader in 1900 Vienna (so much so that I was startled when a horn honked outside my house), and the characters are ones that you will enjoy getting to know. My next job is to order the first two books. Highly recommended.