Goodnight Vienna

Written by J. H. Schryer
Review by Gwen Sly

Goodnight Vienna is a ’30s title out of the last century – but this is a modern novel printed in 2009. The story takes place within eighteen months, between March 1938 and the day the Second World War is declared. It exposes the horrors of newly-occupied Nazi Austria, describing the destruction of the Jewish community in Vienna and the disintegration of Viennese society into a hostile audience as they become brutalised under the Hitler regime.

Katherine Simmons, a young Englishwoman and classical violinist, is persuaded to join the SIS and work undercover in the visa section of the British Embassy in Vienna. Her husband, also on secret work, is taken by the Gestapo and disappears. At the same time, several British agents are discovered brutally murdered. Katherine is given the task of discovering the identity of the traitor in their midst.

The authors writing as J. H. Schryer, in beginning their career in fiction, have made an engrossing portrait of a turbulent period of history. The novel has all the ingredients of a compelling story, but the writing is stilted, the dialogue unconvincing and the characters never really come to life. The reader is introduced to people who lived at that time and played key roles in those final days of peace but, with the possible exception of Winston Churchill, seem no more than an exercise in elaborate name-dropping. Should Goodnight Vienna be reprinted, a reworking of the dialogue on the penultimate page could be considered.