Edna Ferber’s sixth case takes her back in time to a cosmopolitan city and a late-night murder.
Two years after the Titanic disaster, reporter/author Ferber travels to her father’s homeland of Hungary. In Budapest, she and her suffragist friend Winifred Moss take rooms in the shabby Árpád Hotel, where the electricity is capricious and a portrait of the Emperor Franz Josef covers the dumbwaiter in every room. The heart of the hotel is the Café Europa, a center for gossip, intrigue, and front-page news, at least according to Harold Gibbon, a journalist for the Hearst syndicate. The ferretlike reporter wants to write a book about the decline and fall of the Austrian Empire and sees no better symbol for it than the upcoming marriage of the beautiful but gauche American heiress Cassandra Blaine to an impoverished, second-rate Austrian count. Winifred thinks empty-headed Cassandra laughs too loudly and defeats the cause of women’s rights. But Edna sees that the laughter covers up heartbreak: Cassandra’s in love with Endre Molnár, who’s from an old Hungarian family that isn’t noble enough to tempt Cassandra’s social-climbing mother. And the Blaine fortune, which comes from American-manufactured firearms, is all that interests her cold, unattractive fiance. Then Cassandra confides in Edna that she heard something she didn’t understand, and she’s afraid. Before Edna can decide how to help, Cassandra gets a note from Molnár to meet him in the garden, where she’s stabbed to death. Her Hungarian lover is the top suspect, but Edna and Gibbon think that the murderer could as easily be a fading singer who helped arrange the marriage, a failed poet, or a sinister American businessman who seems to be everywhere watching everyone. Gibbon thinks he has the answer, but it falls to Edna, with the help of two Hungarian artists, to find the missing piece to the puzzle.
Apart from one gratingly predictable plot twist, Ifkovic (Final Curtain, 2014, etc.) successfully blends homicide with a loving homage to Budapest on the eve of World War I.