Prague is the setting for this unusual meta-mystery, in which an American's investigation of his older brother's disappearance occasions stories-within-stories involving Nazi occupiers, Communist spies, a gangster known as Rumpelstiltskin and a still-ticking watch that goes back to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II.
Sorting through his recently deceased father's effects, Chicago debt collector Lee Holloway finds a letter from a Czech woman named Vera saying she needs to talk to him about his son Paul, who disappeared years ago. Though it was reported that he drowned in a flood, she writes, he was in fact murdered. At the shadowy Black Rabbit bar in Prague, the frail, elusive Vera tells Lee his brother was involved in a plot to steal from an art gallery the Rudolf Complication, a legendary watch commissioned by Rudolf II. An accomplice, she said, killed Paul. Into the underground of the city, and European history, Lee goes, tour book in hand, eventually crossing paths with an American writer with the meaningfully palindromic name Hannah and a former Czech detective with sinister airs. Jutting into the main narrative are flashbacks and side stories including the anguished first-person confessions of a jeweler in Nazi-occupied Prague who discovers the watch he is repairing is the miraculous watch and the tale of the resurrected suicide who created the watch that wasn't a watch because, like victims of the serial killer loose in Prague, it's missing hands. Adams, author of the punk-noir Billy Chaka series (Tokyo Suckerpunch, 2000, etc.), blends the Czech magic realism of Milan Kundera and American gumshoe fiction with an admirably light hand. The asides sometimes prove distracting or unnecessary, but the parts add up to a satisfying whole.
A freshly imagined work, this novel boasts clever twists and revelations right up until the end.