City of Ghosts by Shawn Kobb

City of Ghosts

A Mystery in Vienna
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An American in Austria becomes embroiled in an international crime plot in Kobb’s debut novel.

The story opens in a Vienna cafe, where Jake Meyer, an American college kid studying abroad, notices the beautiful but withdrawn college student Anna and her conspicuously bandaged wrists. He has a brief conversation with her, and later spies her again, having an awkward encounter with an older professor; still later, he witnesses her ex-boyfriend fall to his death, and Anna peeking out of the professor’s office window above. After speaking with Anna, however, he believes in her innocence, and begins investigating the mystery. Jake seems like a typical earnest American who wants to play the hero, but a secret in his past, involving the death of his sister, provides him with a motivation to help Anna and gives his character depth. His friends and roommates add a mix of distinct personalities, even if the many coincidental connections among them become difficult to believe. Meanwhile, Tess McIntosh, an American consular official, provides a refreshing change in point of view and allows fascinating glimpses into what it’s like to work for an embassy in a foreign country. Tess first meets Jake when his mother, in a classic helicopter-parent move, asks embassy officials to check up on him as he hadn’t called home in a while; of course, the attraction between Tess and Jake is immediate after they meet in person. The two soon become entangled in a plot involving explosions, murder, and war criminals. Vienna is an exotic setting for a thriller, and Kobb uses its distinct culture and beautiful locales to good effect. The plot, however, dutifully moves forward from point A to B to C; some twists and turns would have been welcome, as well as a more complex mystery for Jake and Tess to unravel. Tess remarks to herself more than once that Jake’s and her adventure “wasn’t a movie,” but the cartoonish villains, when they make appearances, seem like they stepped directly out of an action flick. Kobb’s pared-down, often funny writing pulls readers along, though, to a satisfying, if predictable, ending.

A serviceable thriller, but one that’s a bit too straightforward to deliver many thrills.

Pub Date: July 27th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-5148-0353-0
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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