While reading this novel several years ago, I found myself sitting in the home of Gustav Mahler, current conductor at the Vienna Court Opera House, near a glorious Bosendorfer grand piano. A tall woman dressed in a long white gown is playing Bach. It is the summer of 1899.
Advokat Karl Werthen, one of the few fictional characters in Jones' Viennese mysteries, is looking into a series of incidents surrounding Mahler's current performances...a young mezzo soprano crushed by a fallen asbestos curtain and a suspicious hanging death of the third violinist. Werthen has been hired by a charming Alma Schindler to investigate these incidents and more personal attacks against Gustav Mahler, the renown composer and youngest conductor at the Hofoper. Werthen is soon joined by his sidekick in Jones' first Viennese mystery The Empty Mirror, the real-life Dr. Hanns Gross, the father of modern criminology.
The action, the tour of fin de siecle Vienna, begins at the funeral of Johann Strauss at the Zentralfriedhof, the Central Cemetary, the largest and most famous of Vienna's almost fifty cemetaries. The funeral cortege has consisted of eight carriages of flowers. the hearse drawn by four gray Lippizanners.
Later Werthen and Gross interview the likely suspects. The men behind the curtain: Hans Richter, the former conductor at the Hofoper; Leitner, the financial director; and Siegfried Blauer, the stage manager. The music critics including Everhard Hassler, the anti-Semitic, and Edward Hanslick, a stauch enemy of the new music; the head claqueur of the time, Peter Schreier, whom Mahler has banned from his performances (he has no need for professional applauders): and Karl Kraus, a most interesting journalist and young writer of The Torch magazine. The detective duo interview the members of Mahler's household including his sister Justine who has been disinherited and his faithful companion, Natalie Bauer-Lechner, and the friends and enemies of Mahler's student days at the Austrian Conservatory including Hugo Wolf, who accuses Mahler of plagarism.
Jones' novel touches on the political side of the era: the Jewish-driven renaissance of musicians and the Brahms-Wagner controversy. And the Austrian food sounds delicious: wild boar with red currant sauce, coffee and a linzer torte, a famous Viennese pastry...and sclag obers, a spicy goulash served with new potatoes.
After Mahler survives arsenic poisoning in his favorite Turkish delights imported from Istanbul, the killer is discovered ... before a performance of Tannhauser.
REQUIEM IN VIENNA is a satisfying and didactic mystery. Highly recommended.
I really enjoyed this novel. It creates its world well, recreating the Austro Hungarian empire at the beginning of the 20th century, and introducing me to the composer Mahler and his contemporaries in a way that brought them to life. Of course we know he can't be murdered, but that actually adds to the tension. Perhaps it ends a bit too swiftly, tidying up the edges, but there's a surprise there too. I enjoyed it and I will look out for others. A good holiday read, in an unfamiliar and fascinating period.