Turn-of-the-century Austria has its own homegrown Jack the Ripper, a killer with a cruelly creative streak and a disturbingly playful nature.
After woodsman Johannes Schmidt finds the brutalized body of a young kitchen maid near his rural home in the province of Styria, criminologist Hanns Gross (The Keeper of Hands, 2013, etc.) is called in by the police to assist in their investigation. Gross confirms that the victim was pregnant, the child ripped from her womb. Hers is just the latest in an unsettling series of recent killings. Meanwhile, Gross' friend Karl Werthen, a lawyer, accepts the offer of provocative author Bram Stoker to help protect him while he's on a speaking tour. When the press tags the grisly murders with the headline "Vampiro!," the author of Dracula is delighted, but Gross is enraged at such stupidity. He believes the killer is targeting him and shares a taunting note that was slipped under his hotel room door. Meanwhile, in Vienna, Werthen's emancipated wife, Berthe, is engaged in some probing of her own, albeit a bit more arcane, when she suspects that a complex scheme may be afoot to corrupt the pure lineage of the famed Lipizzaner horses. Predictably, Berthe applies a feminist spin by focusing on the mares rather than the stallions. Things take a shocking turn when Gross himself is arrested for the murders. Cameos from Archduke Franz Ferdinand, playwright Arthur Schnitzler and other period notables add spice.
Jones adds a delicious historic perspective to his slightly overstuffed plot, all presented with precision and panache.