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The Empty Mirror    by J. Sydney Jones order for
Empty Mirror
by J. Sydney Jones
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2009 (2009)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

J. Sydney Jones' The Empty Mirror debuts a historical mystery series in 1898 Vienna. When the city's Jack the Ripper picks Liesel Landtauer - a regular model for controversial artist Gustav Klimt reviled for his erotic nude paintings - as his latest victim, the artist is quickly arrested as the killer. Klimt calls on his lawyer friend, Karl Werthen, to clear his name.

Advokat Karl Werthen is from a Jewish family that has long converted and seeks to blend. He has 'literary ambitions', used to practice criminal law (but switched to wills and trusts) and is a close friend of real-life pioneering criminologist Doktor Hanns Gross. Though this Viennese Holmes and Watson (the originals in some sense as Conan Doyle used Doktor Gross's methods for Holmes) investigate - and consult sexologist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing, who suggests a connection between the crimes and the One Hundred Club of upper class syphilitics - it's the killer himself who clears their client.

The second part of The Empty Mirror continues a little later in time when Werthen's world has changed. He's met the love of his life, Berthe Meisner, a strong-minded young woman with a 'sparkling intellect'. Just after they announce their engagement, the Austrian Empress is assassinated in Geneva - and the game is once more afoot, a game that leads Karl and Hanns into great personal danger and close to the Empire's corridors of power after they find links to the 1889 deaths of Crown Prince Rudolf and his mistress. They are trailed throughout their investigations by the hirelings of the aristocracy.

J. Sydney Jones excels at establishing a sense of time and place in his story. Readers feel like they are walking the streets of the Austrian capital along with Karl Werthern, and sharing with him coffee-and-Kipferl, sausage and sauerkraut. The author also has great fun including walk-on parts for many notables of the era, from Sigmund Freud to Zionist founder Theodor Herzl and Mark Twain. The Empty Mirror is a most promising start to what is sure to be a successful new historical mystery series.

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