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by J Sydney Jones
St Martin's Minotaur, January 2009
310 pages
ISBN: 0312383894

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The best authors of historical mysteries are those who infuse their stories with their love for the history and setting of their story. This couldn't be more true of author J Sydney Jones whose most recent mystery is an ode to Vienna at the end of the 19th century. He has populated his book with interesting historical figures while presenting a sleuthing duo that readers will adore.

The story opens as artist Gustav Klimt reaches out for urgent help from his friend and lawyer, Karl Werthen. Having been accused of being a serial murderer because of his connection to one of the victims (a model for his scandalous nude painting, in which she holds a mirror by which one is coaxed to consider the meaning of "truth"), Klimt gains the assistance of not only Werthen, but a true historical figure, legendary criminologist Doktor Hanns Gross. This sleuthing duo is a joy to follow throughout the unfolding mystery.

The trail of murders does not, of course, lead to Klimt, but rather to an unlikely suspect while absorbing and integrating the social history and political intrigue of Vienna during the late 1890s. Well known historical personages mix with fictitious characters in a pleasant blend of fact and fiction as the bodies pile up in the Prater Amusement Park.

If any criticism of the book can be made, it is perhaps that Jones has loaded his story with so much detail and activity that there is enough for two books. What starts out as a serial murderer on the loose as the novel opens eventually turns into a Hapsburg political intrigue somewhere near the final third of the book. Along the way, the twists and turns come fast and furious; Jones is not one to linger over historical details at the sacrifice of action. He includes it all, never giving his readers a dull moment to catch their collective breath.

Although it's not known whether Jones plans to continue his investigative duo's research into other crimes in the future, the team of Werthen-Gross (along with Werthen's sassy fiance, Berthe) are characters that readers will be reluctant to say farewell to at story's end. For those who have even just a small bit of knowledge about Vienna and its history, this is a historical mystery to enjoy, and Jones's characters make it richer still.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, April 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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