When DI Oskar Rheinhardt investigates the suspicious death of an opera diva in early-20th-century Vienna, he finds a nest of vipers and a closet full of skeletons.
Tensions simmer at an elegant gathering that includes the Emperor Franz Josef, Prince Rudolph Liechtenstein, Mayor Lueger and members of the Court Opera, led by Gustav Mahler. The soprano Arianne Amsel attracts many admirers, and the mayor's apparent health is a disappointment to the emperor and his retinue. Not long after, a famed soprano, not Amsel, is found dead under suspicious circumstances. The victim, Ida Rosenkrantz, who recently supplanted a bitter Amsel as the opera's foremost soprano, ingested a deadly quantity of laudanum, leading to a possible verdict of suicide. But she also has a cracked rib and, outside of some recent idiosyncratic behavior, no apparent reason to kill herself. Rheinhardt consults his friend, the progressive Viennese psychoanalyst and Freud-protégé Max Liebermann, and even takes him along when he questions witnesses. When not working the case, the duo enjoys making music together. Mahler confirms the jealousy of other singers at Rosenkrantz's success, which becomes a motif of the investigation, confirmed by her dresser, Felix, and by Amsel herself. A gardener links the victim to the mayor, and the reader is privy to connections with the prince and the emperor as well. But the biggest early development is the discovery that Rosenkrantz may have secretly had an abortion.
Liebermann and Rheinhardt's sixth collaboration (Vienna Twilight, 2011, etc.) again paints an intricately detailed portrait of the city in its time as well as a satisfyingly layered murder puzzle.