The Keeper of Hands (A Viennese Mystery)
In 1901 in Vienna, Advokat Karl Werthen is a lawyer specializing in wills and trusts, but supplements his income through work as a “private inquiry agent.” So when a local brothel-keeper’s favourite prostitute is found murdered and the police consider the matter beneath their notice, the madam hires Werthen to investigate. The fictional Werthen is aided by his mentor, the historically real criminologist Hanns Gross. As they dig deeper, other murders and ties to high-level espionage are uncovered.
Though the plotting could use tightening, Jones has written a readable mystery with some appealing fictional characters. Quite unfortunate and objectionable, however, is all the name- and case-dropping. Characters are clumsily inserted entirely to mention historical persons and just as ineptly explain who they are and their significance. The examples are myriad – a chauffeur introduces himself as Ferdinand Porsche and instructs on how he’s constructed the Lohner-Porsche engine for the conveyance in which they’re riding; artist Gustav Klimt, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, playwright Arthur Schnitzler, and more make appearances. There are also superfluous asides to mention other historical persons (eg, psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing) from earlier cases. All of this feels quite forced, outside the storyline, and pointlessly didactic. This is a mystery, not a lecture course on fin de siècle Vienna notables.