A review of Murder in Vienna by E C R Lorac – 230313
The last time I was in Vienna, the city centre was knee deep in snow which made an enchanting backdrop to the stunning architecture that graces the Austrian capital. One of Lorac’s strengths as a writer is her sense of place, her ability to convey an impression of the grandeur of the buildings, the delightful expanses of the parks in a few short sentences. I felt I had been transported back, minus the snow.
This is one of the later books in Lorac’s Robert Macdonald series, the forty-second, originally published in 1956. It is set in contemporary Vienna, which had just emerged out of occupied control. However, the vestiges of foreign occupation and the slightly surreal impression of a defeated and once proud country feeling its way towards freedom linger on. There is not the menace that lurks on every page of Graham Greene’s Third Man but, nonetheless, this is not a city that is at ease with itself.
This is another piece of crime fiction involving a busman’s holiday. Macdonald is taking a well-earned holiday to Vienna – not the most obvious holiday destination at the time, I would have thought – but, as is the way with these stories, is soon dragged in to help out in an investigation that results in three murders and two serious assaults.
That Macdonald chooses to fly to Vienna on a Vickers Viscount seems to be a novelty, a fascinating insight into the advances in air passenger travel in the 1950s. The Viscount, the turboprop powered airliner, went into service in 1953. Even so, it had to make a scheduled stop at Zurich. It was there that the chain of events that led to mayhem on the streets of Vienna began.
As is the way with these stories, the central characters in the story are fellow passengers on the Viscount flight, who all seem to bump into each other when they are staying in Vienna. A young woman, Elizabeth le Vendre, who had befriended Macdonald on the flight, is found unconscious, having been attacked in a Viennese park during a thunderstorm. It emerges that a girl wearing Elizabeth’s coat had been menaced earlier. Then a celebrated writer, Walsingham, is killed, ostensibly having been knocked down in a road accident, but later it transpires that he was murdered earlier, and his body dumped so that it would be run over. A chauffeur by the name of Pretzel is also murdered, his death collateral damage.
The murder of a British subject leads Scotland Yard to cancel Macdonald’s leave and detail him to help the Viennese authorities with their authorities. A ubiquitous press photographer, Webster, also a passenger on the flight, seems to be helpful and offers valuable information, although is he really what he appears to be and is his aunt as innocently naïve as she seems?
The plot is engaging enough and the mystery, although not one of Lorac’s best, boils down to a competition to secure the rights to what were considered to be valuable memoirs from the Nazi era. The key takeaway is how valuable the ability to recognise faces is, although it can lead you into trouble. The finale is tense, and it has its moments of humour, particularly in the way that one of the characters protects themselves from the fatal consequences of a savage attack. What I missed, though, was any sense of character development. Only Webster really seemed to come alive on the page.
The Kindle edition does her no favours as it is littered with typos. One for the completist, I would say.