The Empty Mirror

by J. Sydney Jones

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

The Empty Mirror by J. Sydney Jones The Empty Mirror, begins a mystery series set in fin de siécle Vienna, featuring a fictional lawyer and a supporting cast laced with historical figures. Karl Werthen, a Jew raised Protestant in his upwardly striving family, bristles at Austria's pervasive anti-Semitism. The brilliant criminologist Hanns Gross is among those who make him bristle. Gross pioneered the use of scientific methods to investigate crimes. In the novel, he waxes indignant about Arthur Conan Doyle, who "insists on using my methods for his main character - this Holmes fellow. . . . Makes a complete laughingstock of me among my fellow professionals."

Gross and Werthen, who gave up criminal law after the death of a sweetheart who urged him to go into the more financially stable field of wills and trusts, are old acquaintances. Gross's visit to Vienna has stirred up Werthen's longing for his more exciting former specialty. So when the eccentric artist Gustav Klimt asks Werthen to establish his innocence in a case of murder, he can't resist. One of Klimt's models has been a victim of a serial killer, and Klimt - scandalous and feckless, but no killer - is the current target of the police investigation. Werthen enlists Gross's assistance. The self-absorbed Gross is all too eager to provide it, and the hunt for the real killer is on.

Meanwhile, Empress Elizabeth of Austria is murdered in Geneva, calling up memories of the death of her son, Crown Prince Rudolf. Nine years earlier, Rudolf died in an apparent suicide pact with his mistress at his hunting lodge at Mayerling. Readers familiar with the mystery genre will realize these historical deaths will sooner or later become linked to the fictional murders. The Empty Mirror offers many clever twists and a lag in the middle, nicely filled with Werthen's first meeting with the bracing young woman who will become the love of his life. (2009; 310 pages)

More about The Empty Mirror at Powell's Books or

Other historical mysteries featuring serial killings:

Get Out or Die by Jane Finnis (2005), about a woman innkeeper in Roman Britain who must investigate a series of killings which appear to be the work of tribal Brigantians. Review or more info at Powell's Books

Heresy by S.J. Parris (2010), a mystery featuring Renaissance philosopher-scientist Giordano Bruno investigating serial murders at Oxford University. Review or more info at Powell's Books

What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen (2010), a standalone mystery which imagines what might have happened if historical figures William, Henry and Alice James investigated the case of Jack the Ripper. Review or more info at Powell's Books

Nonfiction about Empress Elizabeth of Austria and the Mayerling Affair:

The Lonely Empress: Elizabeth of Austria by Joan Haslip (1965). More info

The Road to Mayerling: The Life and Death of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria by Richard Barkeley (1958). More info

Twilight of the Habsburgs: The Life and Times of Emperor Francis Joseph by Alan Palmer (1995). More info

At the Movies:

Klimt, a 2006 film loosely based on the life of Gustav Klimt, directed by Raul Ruiz and starring John Malkovich as Klimt


Death of Crown Prince Rudolf at the Heritage History website

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