Friday, February 09, 2018

The Countess of Prague by Stephen Weeks, a wild and witty mystery of early 20th-century Europe

This first entry in a projected ten-volume series welcomes a sassy aristocratic heroine who steps outside her exalted circles to solve crimes and has a great time doing so. It’s 1904 in Prague, and Countess Beatrice “Trixie” von Falklenburg gets drawn into an irresistible mystery when her great-uncle Berty is informed that a body caught in the Vltava River is that of his old army batman, Alois. However, the old soldiers’ home still claims Alois as a current resident.

Alois had been Uncle Berty’s representative in a Tontine, an investment lottery in which the member with the last surviving nominee reaps all the benefits, so his death would be bad news for Berty. Curiously, someone besides Berty clearly has a motive for wanting Alois to appear alive, but who?

The intrepid Trixie dives eagerly into the investigation, although for her family’s sake, she can’t let on that the “Alois” in the home is probably an impostor. Her madcap adventure takes her from an unusual fancy-dress ball to the fashionable spa town of Marienbad to a train bound for London. She chops off her hair, dons a poor urchin’s garb, and gets accused of murder. Most shockingly, she says “thank you” to a servant for the first time ever.

The Countess is absolutely delightful. She charms everyone from her mini-garrison of urchin helpers to King Edward VII himself, and her excitement at breaking free of her snobby social confines is infectious. Her French ladies’ maid, Sabine, and her courageous butler, M├╝ller, are equally as fun. The mystery involves many characters who appear only fleetingly and gets somewhat convoluted. Careful reading is needed to keep the many plot points straight. Pre-WWI Prague comes alive in its elegance, and it’s hard to say who will look forward to her next adventure more: Trixie, or her readers.

The Countess of Prague was published in 2017 by Poisoned Pen Press; I read it from a NetGalley copy.

4 comments:

  1. Sounds like a hoot. And a mystery! What could be better? And nine more to come? Good news on a rainy Saturday.

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  2. A 10-book series is pretty ambitious! Fortunately this one's off to a good start.

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  3. This sounds like fun, Sarah! I visited Prague a few years ago and now I'm mad about anything set in this magical city, any time period or genre. (I'm reading The Bohemian Gospel right now.) Thanks for the post!

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  4. I've always wanted to visit Prague, and I love reading novels set there - any time, like you said. I'll be curious what you think of Bohemian Gospel!

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