Henry James' Midnight Song (1995)

by Carol De Chellis Hill

A serial killer has been murdering women in turn-of-the-century Vienna, scattering their body parts around town and sending tantalizing notes to the police. A murder may even have taken place in Sigmund Freud’s home, though the corpse disappeared. Master detective Maurice Cheval LeBlanc is called from Paris to investigate the crimes—against the wishes of Emperor Franz Josef, who thinks the case is inciting anti-Semites who believe the murders are Jewish ritual killings.

Some of the most influential thinkers of the time figure in the case. Besides Freud, they include the other giant of early psychoanalysis, Carl Jung, as well as American expatriate writers Henry James and Edith Wharton. Despite their dominating presence in the story, there’s little depth to the portrayal of them or of their ideas. Other characters include a countess with whom the inspector falls in love and a visiting American family with three precocious adolescents and a feminist aunt. They all have their stories, most of them are hiding secrets, and the book grows jam-packed.

By the end the murder mystery seems an afterthought. Hill writes well and conveys the flavor of the time, but fans of mystery novels will be disappointed with the investigation and solution of the crime.


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