Set on the eve of World War I, Café Europa is the newest installment in the Edna Ferber mystery series. This time, Edna finds herself in Budapest with Winifred Moss, a British suffragette, in a run-down hotel frequented by ex-pats and American tourists. The crux of the novel focuses on Edna’s time in the hotel’s café, Café Europa, and the offbeat cast of characters that inhabit it, including Hearst journalist Harold Gibbon, who is certain that Europe, the Austrian empire specifically, is on the verge of war; he wants to be there when it all collapses. He does everything he can to insinuate himself into everyone’s business, including Edna’s, but, unlike everyone else, she finds Harold somewhat endearing. When the American socialite Cassandra Blaine is found murdered, Edna and Harold begin their quest to discover who did it. Like the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo, the reader learns that Cassandra’s murder is a catalyst toward war.
Ed Ifkovic blends fictional characters along with real life personas – Edna Ferber and the Hungarian artists Bertalan Por and Lajos Tihanyi – into a briskly paced murder mystery set in a turbulent Hungary. Though this is the sixth book in the series, there is no need to have read any of the previous installments (I hadn’t) to enjoy this jaunt into history and fiction.