Monday, February 1, 2010

"Requiem in Vienna"

J. Sydney Jones is the author of twelve books, including the first in the Viennese Mystery series, The Empty Mirror, the nonfiction Hitler in Vienna, 1907-1913, the guides Viennawalks and Vienna Inside-Out, and the Vienna-based suspense novel Time of the Wolf. A long-time resident of Vienna, he currently lives near Santa Cruz, California.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Requiem in Vienna, the second Viennese Mystery, and reported the following:
Requiem in Vienna, the second novel in my “Viennese Mystery” series, is set in 1899 and features the new Court Opera Director and composer Gustav Mahler. A series of mysterious accidents at the Opera have led to the death of a young soprano. Alma Schindler, the future Alma Mahler, hires my protagonist, the lawyer Karl Werthen to protect Mahler, whom she is certain someone is trying to kill. Werthen teams up once again with Dr. Hanns Gross, one of the pioneers of modern criminology, to get to the bottom of things.

Page 69 of the novel finds Werthen and Gross called to the scene of the suicide death of Friedrich Gunther, the third violinist at the Court Opera by Detective Inspector Drechsler. The pair has let it be known that they are interested in anything that has to do with the Opera, but at first glance, this seems just a tawdry suicide brought on by despair and drink. The body is hanging from a chandelier in the violinist’s apartment, a chair tipped on its side underneath. After carefully examining the scene and forbidding the gathered policemen from cutting the corpse down, Gross discovers something that convinces both him and Werthen that they are, indeed, dealing with murder both here and at the Court Opera:
Musicians earned little enough, Werthen knew. The job was a sinecure--at least it had been before Mahler’s reign of terror at the Opera and Philharmonic--but such security came at a high price. Herr Gunther clearly had made barely enough for a single man to subside on; whether by design or necessity, his violin had also become his wife. A sad sort of life, Werthen thought. Devoted to art, yes. But then to come home from the lofty world of music to such a depressing environment. Once again, Werthen marveled that a sense of beauty was not something that was generalized to all aspects of one’s life. That is, he was amazed that a man such as Gunther who, one assumed, had been filled with the beauty inherent in music, could still live in such unaesthetic surroundings. Or, like much of Vienna, perhaps Herr Gunther had spent his free time in his favorite coffee house and not in the restricted confines of his unwelcoming apartment.

Werthen’s ruminations were cut short by a snort from Gross.

“Suicide. Utter nonsense.”

Drechsler also perked up at this comment.

“Well, I admit that the lack of any suicide note looks suspicious. But what makes you say so without even examining the body?”

To which comment Gross simply righted the dining chair, placing it under the dangling feet of Gunther. The tips of the dead man’s boots were suspended two inches above the chair seat.

“I’ll be damned,” Drechsler said. “Cut him down.” He motioned to the constables who now finished the work they had earlier begun.

They laid the body gently onto the floor, and Gross leaned down to make a quick examination. Drechsler, his hawk-like face marred by a rather unattractive overbite, squatted next to him.

The inspector assumed control now, slipping a forefinger under the front of the noose. The skin underneath was neither bruised nor rope-burned. He worked around to the back of the man’s head, feeling for broken vertebrae with his eyes closed. He shook his head.

“Amateur,” Gross spluttered, as if it was the worst offence he could imagine. “As if he didn’t care enough to even try to deceive us.”
Read an excerpt from Requiem in Vienna, and learn more about the book and author at J. Sydney Jones' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Empty Mirror.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue