Review Mephisto Waltz. Disclaimer: this copy free from Pegasus Books
Another excellent entry into the historical / detective fiction series, this time set in Vienna in 1904. Think: Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware and his cop friend Milo Sturgis, except here it’s the time and place of Freud. The case: there’s a bomb-wielding anarchist on the loose, and nobody knows who he is, including the people who work with him. He goes by one name: Mephistopheles (hence the title; go to YouTube for the actual music), and he’s always hidden. The book starts with a three-member jury sentencing someone to death. His face is melted with acid, so you don’t know who. Other killings (one accidental) follow, and there’s a last-second cipher to figure out, and a bomb to stop.
That’s enough summary. The mystery is handled well, but in a way you may not be familiar with, and I mean that as a very good thing. There’s no CSI-like structure, or procedural. There’s an ME, of course, and he may remind you of one from TV’s procedurals, but that’s it. The coolest things about this book, and done well in the whole series, but really done well here, are:
A) you get a slice-of-life (of just under 300 pages) of what it would be like to live in 1904 Vienna, and it’s taken just as seriously—if not more so—than the murders. The crimes are part of this early-20th Century world, before WWI and, in fact, in the time of early cars (Herr Porsche is a minor character, his car is a push-button, as many of the earliest ones were, and he drives a hybrid!), so these are treated as something that would be an everyday part of this world. No sensationalism; no guns. None of the tropes of the genre. They happen as they would happen in that world, and that world molds them. The world isn’t altered to enhance the crimes. The crimes enhance that world. You really feel like you’re there, tasting all that strudel. And--
B) It’s a treasure trove of cool things to look up, to learn about, to listen to on YouTube. This is the kind of thing that makes Dan Brown books so interesting: I buy those in their Illustrated Editions to see the paintings, to look at the sculptures, to learn about the locations (Good idea to Pegasus Books: Consider publishing Illustrated Editions of this series, going back to the first—and why not include a CD or a link to listen to the constantly-referenced music of the time?). And I do the same with Tallis’s series: I’ve listened on YouTube to all of the (very) many songs and music mentioned. They’re actually very good. (Favorite: “The Elf-King” from a few books ago.) I’ve looked up all the real-life personages (This one does a very good job of listing all of them at the end, and of offering quick bios and glimpses.), from Porsche to Freud, and all of the princes and princesses. So it’s not just a simple mystery and you’re done, a ton of books in a series so alike that they all bleed into each other and you couldn’t explain one to somebody (Are you listening, Kellerman?). This series is different, each one a stand-alone, distinct. Tallis publishes one every five to six years, and maybe for this reason.
And Mephisto Waltz even has a cool, gaslight-noir cover. It’s my first hardcover of the series—thanks to Pegasus Books. (That’s my disclosure. Again.) So grab this one. You may read it in one sitting, like I did. When you’re done, get the other six, and enjoy. And feel free to look up the music, the people, the art, and the inventions of that world.