Requiem in Vienna

by J. Sydney Jones

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

Requiem in Vienna by J. Sydney Jones Requiem in Vienna is the second in a new mystery series set in late-nineteenth-century Vienna. This one features composer Gustav Mahler. Fin de siècle Vienna was not quite an artist's paradise. Musicians were adored. Their liaisons with admirers were a license granted artistic spirits. But anti-Semitism was pervasive. To gain his position as Court Opera Director, Mahler had to convert from Judaism to Christianity. But in Requiem in Vienna this is the least of the acerbic composer's troubles. During a rehearsal of Lohengrin, a heavy fire curtain falls on a soprano he has just reduced to tears, killing her and narrowly missing him.

Fiction lawyer Karl Werthen, the sleuth in this series, has troubles of his own. Like Mahler, he is a converted Jew. Though blissfully in love with his wife of two months, his parents have not accepted her. He is at odds with his cook, who disapproves of the young couple's informal breakfasting habits, their shared bedroom and the new telephone. Asked to investigate the series of "accidents" plaguing Mahler, he at first dismisses the possibility of a murder attempt. Later, when a note brings his attention to the deaths of three other noted Viennese composers in as many years, he begins to wonder whether there might be a connection. He has just attended the funeral of the "Waltz King" Johann Strauss; Brahms died two years previously; Bruckner a year before Brahms.

Werthen, his bright and up-to-date wife Berthe, and the noted criminalist Dr. Hanns Gross, who invites himself into the investigation while in Vienna for a conference, are vivid and engaging characters. But the star of the show is the music world of fin-de-siècle Vienna, its passions, its jealousies, its backbiting critics and its all-too-human musicians. The food isn't bad either: around every street corner in Requiem in Vienna, there seems to be a café serving linzer torte and coffee smothered in "A mountain of whipped cream." (2010; 293 pages)

More about Requiem in Vienna at Powell's Books or

Interview with author J. Sydney Jones

Other mysteries set in Vienna:

The Empty Mirror by J. Sydney Jones (2009), fictional detective Karl Werthen investigates the murder of a model for artist Gustav Klimt, #1 in the Karl Werthen series. More info

A Death in Vienna (titled Mortal Mischief in the U.K.) by Frank Tallis (2005), about a Viennese psychoanalyst and disciple of Freud who helps his detective friend investigate the death of a beautiful medium in 1902. More info

The Fig Eater by Jody Shields (2001), about a woman found strangled in a Vienna park in 1910 and the different people trying to find out who killed her; loosely based on Freud's case study of "Dora." More info

Nonfiction about Gustav Mahler and the Viennese musical world:

Gustav Mahler: A Life in Crisis by Stuart Feder (2004). More info

The Schenker Project: Culture, Race and Music Theory in Fin de Siècle Vienna by Nicholas Cook (2007). More info

Vienna for the Music Lover by David Nelson (2006). More info


Mahler: The Complete Symphonies, conducted by Leonard Bernstein


Article on Gustav Mahler at Wikipedia

Vienna Café, a website devoted to a research project on the Viennese café at the turn of the 20th century and its contribution to culture

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