The Empty Mirror, by J Sydney Jones

>> Monday, October 22, 2018

TITLE: The Empty Mirror
AUTHOR: J Sydney Jones

PAGES: 320

SETTING: 1898 Vienna
TYPE: Mystery/thriller
SERIES: Viennese mysteries #1

The summer of 1898 finds Austria terrorized by a killer who the press calls 'Vienna's Jack the Ripper'. Four bodies have already been found, but when the painter Gustav Klimt's female model becomes the fifth victim, the police finger him as the culprit. The artist has already scandalized Viennese society with his erotically charged modern paintings. Who better to take the blame for the crimes that have plagued the city?

This is, however, far from an open-and-shut case. Klimt's lawyer, Karl Werthen, has an ace up his sleeve. Dr. Hans Gross, the renowned father of criminology, has agreed to assist him in investigating the murders. Together, Gross and Werthen must not only clear Klimt's name but also follow the trail of a killer that will lead them in the most surprising of directions. By uncovering the cause of the crimes that have shaken the city, the two men may risk damaging Vienna more than the murders did themselves.

Written by an acclaimed expert on Vienna and its history, The Empty Mirror introduces a new series of stunning historical mysteries that reveals the culture and curiosities of this fascinating fin de si├Ęcle metropolis.
I recently had a long weekend in Vienna before a work conference, so I thought I'd read something set there beforehand. This book, a historical mystery written by an author who's also written guidebooks of the city, seemed to me the perfect choice. The reviews were mediocre, but the main criticism was that there was way too much about city and not enough about the mystery. Given what I was after, that didn't seem like a problem.

It's 1898 and a serial killer is spreading fear in Vienna. The latest victim is an artist's model, and a well-known painter she often posed for is identified as a suspect by the police. Our central character, lawyer Karl Werthen, gets involved when the painter comes to him for help, being a former client. With the help of a criminologist friend, he decides to investigate.

The Empty Mirror is one of those historical mysteries that uses real people as important characters. Our central character, lawyer Karl Werthen, is made up, but many of the people around him are not. The painter is Gustav Klimt, while the criminologist is also a famous one, Hanns Gross. Several other famous people make an appearance. Even Luigi Lucheni, the man who assassinated Empress Sissi, is given a speaking part. This is a concept I'm not wholly comfortable with, but ok, I could just read them as made up as well.

Unfortunately, even ignoring that issue, in the end, I just had to give up. I pushed myself and read almost two thirds of the book, but it felt like a chore, and by the time my trip had passed without me having managed to finish the book, there was no reason to continue. The biggest problem is the writing. The dialogue is extremely wooden and the plotting is just bad. These combine when Gross and Werthen are interrogating people. People speak in ways that just made me laugh, and they reveal things in ways that make no sense, unless it's to move the plot in particular ways.

I was also annoyed at how the book changed from what I thought it was (a relatively straight-forward hunt for a serial killer), to a story of grand conspiracies. The latter is really, really not my thing.



Susan/DC,  9 November 2018 at 18:47  

Have you read the Max Liebermann books by Frank Tallis? Liebermann is a Viennese psychoanalyst at the end of the 19th C who winds up working with a police detective who becomes his friend. It sounds like it has the positive aspects of the Jones book but without the negative ones. It does have real people (Mahler, Freud) as characters, but the focus is definitely on Max, his clients, and his family, along with the cases. I enjoyed my visit to the Neue Gallerie in New York more because it has lots of furniture, art, and other items from that time/place and seeing them in the museum helped me visualize the books even better. Definitely read in order, as this is one of those series where the mysteries are resolved in each book but the personal lives continue to develop.

Rosario 17 November 2018 at 06:20  

I haven't, but I actually have Death in Vienna somewhere in my kindle... can't even remember why I picked it up! From what you say, it may work better for me. I should read it soon!

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