An exceptionally naïve American musicologist, Dr. Matthew Pierce, stumbles on an 18th-century manuscript that just might be a lost diary of Mozart’s. His attempt to get it authenticated earns him an invitation to a meeting of the mysterious “Fondation de l’Art eternal,” an organization that provides funds for musicians and musicologists to pursue their interests. With high hopes and an empty bank account, Pierce arrives at the Place Stanislas in Nancy, a luxurious French palace filled with world-famous Mozart luminaries. During the black-tie reception on the first night, Pierce learns that the well-dressed Mozarteans may be less than well-behaved. Fortunately for him, the females display ample décolletage and an unaccountable interest in his fresh blood. Pierce alternately gapes at or lusts after the other guests, including two rival publishers of Mozart Millennium books, feuding operatic divas, a sadistic count, a Don Giovanni businessman, an ex-ballerina agent investigating organized crime for something like Interpol, and a narcoleptic baroness and her nymph granddaughter. It’s no big deal when someone sends Pierce an anonymous warning and breaks into his suitcase, but when the housemaid he particularly likes is strangled and the count and the two divas poisoned, the party is clearly over, sending him on an improbable journey across Europe, chasing Mozart manuscripts and dodging violence.
Slater’s debut outdoes even Mary Robert Rinehart in its reliance on the Had-I-But-Known formula. Not even his liberal use of aristocratic venues and titillating vignettes can compensate for an imbecilic hero in a picaresque fantasy with less credible plotting than The Magic Flute.