The fourth novel in the Viennese Mystery series, The Keeper of Hands, has just been published in the U.S., to strong reviews. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly dubbed it “masterful,” and further praised the “top-notch detecting and characterizations.” Booklist also gave it a thumbs up, noting: “As much an exploration of prewar [WWI] Vienna as it is a mystery yarn, the book is full of striking visual imagery that helps conjure up the landscape…this series is well worth a look.”
In tandem with that publication, I had an interview with journalist Guy Bergstrom for the Big Thrill, the monthly online mag of the International Thriller Writers. He asked me an interesting question about the moment I knew as a student in Vienna in the late 1960s that I wanted to stay on there for a number of years and write about the city. It brought to mind this tale of Cold War Vienna:
As a student, I frequented a dive of a café near my lodgings in the third district. It was dodgy and not gemütlich at all. A worker joint with a perpetual haze of blue smoke overhead, a zinc bar, and a jukebox on which someone was always playing “Rock around the Clock.” I would take my small orange-covered, graph lined Rhodia notebook and a pocketful of Staedtler HB pencils with me when I went there, order an achtel of gut-burning Vetliner, and imagine I was another Hemingway in the making.
One evening a rather drunken man at the next table asked me what I was scribbling. I humored him–he seemed a pleasant enough type–and said I was trying to write a short story about Vienna. He immediately got up, came to my table, and sat down without being invited, breathing rank fumes in my face as he leaned in toward me. “I’ve got a story,” he all but hissed. Then he cast his eyes about the room to make sure no one was watching.
It was early autumn and a warm evening; he was dressed in short sleeves. He quickly pulled up the sleeve on his left arm. There, on the inside of his upper bicep was a black tattoo. It took me a moment to decipher it, for it was in Gothic script. I finally realized that it was the letters “AB”.
I raised my eyebrows; he nodded. An avid reader of thrillers even then, I knew that this was his blood type. It was also his badge: he was a former SS.
“I have stories,” he whispered.
At that moment I realized I was not in Kansas (in my case, Oregon) anymore. I was out in the big world where anything could happen, swept up into the cyclone of history. I remember the frisson of excitement I experienced at that realization. I wanted to keep repeating it.
For more about The Keeper of Hands and the background of the Viennese Mysteries, see my podcast interview with Publishers Weekly.