Kensington, $15.00, ISBN 978-0-7582-5423-8
Historical Mystery, 2011
In Vienna, a cozy mystery is brewing. The Russian Princess Tatiana, mistress to some of the most powerful European men that congregated in Vienna that season, is dead. Suzanne Rannoch’s husband, Malcolm, an attaché for Lord Castlereagh, is one of the men found at the scene of the crime. Suzanne is there too, fortunately, so she gets to defend her husband from being pegged as Tatiana’s killer. The thing is, she and Malcolm as well as Tatiana’s two lovers are each given a note, supposedly from Tatiana, to meet her at the specified time and place, so it looks like they are part of some kind of set-up. Who wants Tatiana dead? Why, it could be any of the powerful men around her, their jealous wives… and perhaps even Malcolm, whom she had seen with her own eyes recently getting quite cozy with Tatiana in the days before Tatiana’s death. Like it or not, Suzanne and Malcolm are knee-deep in this mystery, and they have to get to the bottom of it. It soon becomes clear that Malcolm has a very personal interest in solving the murder. Just what is Malcolm’s relationship with Tatiana?
Vienna Waltz was originally a book featuring Charles and Mélanie Fraser, as part of the author formerly known as Tracy Grant‘s historical mystery series for HarperTorch. But that was almost eight years ago. Now, this book resurfaces with the characters renamed Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. While this story can stand alone very well, readers who remember Daughter of the Game (reissued a while back as Secrets of a Lady) and Beneath a Silent Moon will find Malcolm and Suzanne familiar in many ways.
This familiarity is a double-edged sword of sorts, though. The way the story is set up, Malcolm is required to find reasons to keep his relationship with Tatiana a secret even if it means humiliating Suzanne and letting her think the worst of him. When I am reading this book, I find this a pretty incredulous set-up, especially when the relationship between these two should have moved, in my mind, past the tedious “I’m not good enough for the other person, so let me sit here and mope endlessly” stage. It is only much later, when I’ve finished this book, that I learn from other sources that this book is set before Beneath a Silent Moon, so perhaps it is understandable that these characters are so… whiny about each other. But still… I don’t know. I shouldn’t have to dig up information from third party sources in order to get and enjoy this book. This is why I say that readers who come into this one with a clean slate will not have any baggage, so they may be more patient with these two.
On my part, I don’t recall Charles, sorry, Malcolm being this freaking tedious. All that whining and moping about how he should have never married Suzanne drives me crazy. He already had a kid with her, for heaven’s sake. Man up and take it like a man – stop auditioning for Balogh Idol for once! It’s not like his relationship with Tatiana is a great mystery. She was too old to be his daughter and too young to be his mother, so it’s not like I have a hard time deducing the relationship between those two. And when he finally reveals that to his wife, I can only roll up my eyes and say, “What’s the dealio?” He’s such a pointlessly melodramatic git. Suzanne has her own share of “Oh, he’s too good for me!” moping too, but at least she’s not hogging secrets unnecessarily like an attention-starved drama queen.
The story is pretty interesting despite the two wet blankets of a main character, because it is populated by some of the most fascinating female characters rarely seen in the romance genre: cynical women who exchange their bodies for the power they hold over their powerful rulers, pragmatic wives who try to make the best of a political alliance without being melodramatic or hysterical like romance heroines are wont to do, and their victims, er, men – ruthless men who like to pretend that they hold the strings in their relationships with their cunning mistresses. Of course, these women are never shown to be happy – unlike our heroine, who tries so hard to be cynical but in the end emotes like a typical romance heroine – but they keep this story interesting. Even Tatiana, dead as she is, that darling, remains an intriguing presence all the way to the last page.
This is a good thing because this story is structured in such a way that it’s mostly talk, with characters discussing and dissecting a scene – often several times over the next few dozen pages – in search of a clue. Amusingly, Suzanne turns out to be a far more capable investigator than her husband, heh – but I guess drama queens hogging secrets to their melodramatic chests tend to be distracted now and then by their own preoccupation with their hairy navels. The pacing therefore can be quite slow. One thing I find odd here is how easy the other secondary characters can read the emotions on the faces of Suzanne and Malcolm, when our lead characters are supposedly good at hiding their feelings. It is also rather bewildering how freely our main couple share details of their investigations with these secondary characters, some of them acknowledged by our fabulous twosome to have valid reasons to murder Tatiana.
To conclude, I find this one readable read that falters greatly when it comes to the tedious whine-whine-whine relationship between the main characters. The mystery is pretty interesting, if only because the key suspects are fun to follow, and the resolution is fine, but the whole story slows down to a painful halt every time our main characters pause to mope about their relationship. This Vienna Waltz could have been a little more exciting, I think.