What dastard is trying to kill the great Gustav Mahler?
Singers call Vienna’s new Court Opera Director “the drill sergeant,” an unflattering title certainly influenced by a streak of anti-Semitism directed against the Jewish Mahler. In May 1899, a rehearsal of Wagner’s Lohengrin takes a tragic turn when an asbestos fire curtain falls and kills soprano Margarethe Kaspar. In light of several recent accidents at the theater, it looks as if someone has it in for the new director. Beautiful, ambitious Alma Schindler, who will be known to readers familiar with classical-music history, hires lawyer and sometime sleuth Karl Werthen (The Empty Mirror, 2009) to investigate, which seems to confirm the local gossip delivered to Werthen by his friend, painter Gustav Klimt, that the lady has set her romantic sights on Mahler. In light of Alma’s aggressive feminine charms, Werthen’s soulmate and wife Berthe is even more conscientious than usual in assisting him in his investigation. Pioneering criminologist Dr. Hanns Gross, another real-life character, returns from self-imposed exile to help his old friend Werthen as well. There’s no dearth of suspects, including perhaps Mahler himself (Margarethe was becoming an inconvenient mistress). So it’s no surprise that Werthen and Gross uncover layers upon layers of machinations and betrayals in the microcosm of the opera house.
Confident prose and mastery of historical detail, woven into a convincing narrative, make this sophisticated entertainment of a very high caliber.