24 September 2013

The Master of the Day of Judgment by Leo Perutz

A short but gripping mystery set in the Vienna of Franz-Jozef

This book (148 pages) first published in Austria in 1921, is still a wonderful short read. Perutz weaves a beautifully written mystery story, set among the well-to-do of pre-First World War Austria. At first, one is put of by the comedy and strangeness of manners of aristocratic society in 1909, but the poetry of the book soon takes over.

The focus of the novel is the explanation for a string of suicides and the accusation that the narrator, a wealthy army officer, is morally responsible for one of them. Towards the middle of the book it is hard to believe that there is a rational explanation, but Perutz provides one in the final chapter.

Despite the magic of the text, I was struck by the emptiness of the narrator of the story, Baron von Yosch. Yet, if the explanation of the suicides is the first 'sting-in-the-tail,' the editor's postscript is the second. The narrator is laid bare. Do not on any account read the last page first.

Three nights of in-bed late night reading will finish this novel of psychological analysis, gruesome ingenuity and metaphysical horrors.

PERUTZ, Leo - The Master of the Day of Judgment, Harvill 1994

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