Books by Leo Perutz

Released: Oct. 1, 1994

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. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1993

From Czech-Austrian writer Perutz (Saint Peter's Snow, 1992, etc.), a story that typically explores a big question—the meaning of identity—in that bleak East European landscape that the author has made his own. Here, Perutz takes the troubled memories of a much-admired 18th-century beauty, Maria Christine, who recalls being secretly visited nightly by her father, who was supposedly off fighting with the Swedish army, and turns them into a riveting tale of adventure with moral undertones. When a thief (known locally as ``fowl- filcher'') meets the young Swedish Cavalier Christian von Tornfeld, who has impetuously deserted from the army, the two struggle to survive in the bleak wintery countryside. Cold and hungry, they shelter in a derelict old mill, home to a ghostly miller believed to be in league with the devil. The mill is near the hellish mining-pits owned by a greedy local bishop who brutally beats the men who work for him. On a foray from the mill, the thief visits a tumbledown estate owned by a young woman who's being cheated out of her inheritance. Once back at the mill, he learns that Christian had been engaged in childhood to this very girl. Using guile and magic, the thief persuades Christian to give him his signet ring and his talismanic Bible, as well as to work in the mines to avoid execution for his desertion. The thief goes on to lead a band of thieves (the ``Desecrators'') who rob churches; and then having amassed enough money, he presents himself to the young girl as her long-lost Swedish Cavalier. They marry; he uses his money to restore the estate; a daughter is born. But when threatened with betrayal by a fellow Desecrator, he announces to his family that he must rejoin the Swedish army—a ruse that leads to his daughter's confusion and his own redemption. As much a gothic tale with a message as a good literate page- turner. Vintage Perutz. Read full book review >
LITTLE APPLE by Leo Perutz
Released: April 8, 1992

An absorbing tale of revenge with strong allegorical underpinnings, by the late Czech-Austrian writer Perutz (Saint Peter's Snow, 1990, etc.), now makes its American debut. Taking his title from an old Russian marching song—which asks, ``Where are you rolling, little apple?''—Perutz tells the story of Georg Vittorin, who has spent two years in a Russian POW camp in Siberia. There, Vittorin and his friends have been maltreated by sadistic camp commandant Selyukov. Released, they return home to Vienna vowing revenge—but only Vittorin takes the pledge seriously. Obsessed with his mission, he sets off in late 1918 to find Selyukov in a country now in the midst of civil war. He encounters Bolsheviks and White Russians, is imprisoned, released, then reaches Moscow, where he joins what he believes to be Selyukov's regiment—but his prey always eludes him. Leaving Russia, he continues on to Istanbul, Rome, Paris, and finally back home to Vienna, where he finds his quarry but not as he imagined. Vittorin now simply wipes ``his life's slate clean of two years,'' oblivious to all those he had hurt, even betrayed, while obsessed: his girlfriend Franzi, who becomes a prostitute; his father, who loses his job and has to be supported by a daughter, who does so by marrying a man she detests; and a slew of Russians of all beliefs, including soldiers once under Vittorin's command and a socialist who had helped him escape arrest. The moral is disappointingly heavy-handed, but the compelling story, vivid characters, and brilliant portrait of a man obsessed more than compensate. A welcome appearance. Read full book review >