Since no one at Eugen Bischoff's 1909 musical soirÇe wants to tell him that his bank has just failed and his contract as actor to the Viennese court will not be renewed, the assembled company—his wife, Dina, her brother Felix, Dr. Eduard von Gorski, the engineer Waldemar Solgrub, and Baron Gottfried von Yosch, Dina's former lover—are eager to listen to his unsettling story of an acquaintance, a young naval officer who retraced the final days of his brother, a suicidal painter, so closely that he ended up killing himself. A few minutes later Bischoff himself is dead, shot inside a locked room. Is it suicide, as the scene suggests, or has he been subtly murdered, as Felix insists, by von Yosch's news about the bank failure? Determined to clear his name, von Yosch investigates Bischoff's own recent movements, and uncovers an uncanny pattern: the suicide of a young pharmacist, the madness of one of von Yosch's former subordinates, the death (by heart failure?) of Solgrub—all linked to the awesomely powerful person the pharmacist called ``the Master of the Day of Judgment.'' The identity of the Master provides a solution that, like that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is more disturbing than the mystery itself. Another of Perutz's allegorical fables (The Swedish Cavalier, 1993, etc.), this tale, first published in 1921, manages, like Stevenson's classic, to be at once obvious, sedate, and hair- raising.
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