- By E.C.R. Lorac
- First published: UK: Collins, 1956. No American publication.
Murder in Vienna seems Lorac’s response to the cosmopolitan, post-war thriller. When Lorac wrote her detective story, Vienna was still occupied by the Allies and the Soviets, and the shadows of World War II still loom over the city.
A retired British diplomat is writing his possibly scandalous memoirs; an impoverished prima donna has the diary and private papers of a Nazi general shot after the July plot; and a young Englishman is searching for his half-German relatives, left Displaced Persons after the war. Any of these, it seems, could provide a motive for murder. The diplomat’s new secretary is brained the day she arrives; and a writer staying with him is run over. Inspector Macdonald (like many a detective) finds that his vacation has become a busman’s holiday.
Murder in Vienna is – fittingly – an elegant, civilized work. Inspector Macdonald could be one of the most attractive policemen in detective fiction, almost as well-read as Appleby, and as sophisticated as Alleyn, but less assuming, less pretentious, more human. He is the sort of policeman who has Jewish friends, and can discuss Robert Graves or Ezra Pound.
The plot is perhaps somewhat nebulous; Macdonald is unofficial and uninvolved until well into the novel, and we are some distance from the characters. You may well spot the murderer – but Lorac could still surprise you even then. The book’s great merit, however, is the depiction of post-war Vienna, some months before it was accorded independence.
Supt. Macdonald, C.I.D., studied his fellow passengers on the Vienna plane simply because he couldn’t help it, because he hadn’t conditioned himself to being on holiday. The distinguished industrialist he recognised; the stout man he put down (quite mistakenly) as a traveller in whisky. The fair girl was going to a job (he was right there) and the aggressive young man in the camel coat might be something bookish. Macdonald turned away from his fellow passengers deliberately; they weren’t his business, for he was on holiday – or so he thought.
Against the background of beautiful Vienna, with its enchanting palaces and gardens, its disenchanted back streets and derelicts of war, E. C. R. Lorac constructs a detective story with all its complexities: an exciting and puzzling new crime story.
Observer (Maurice Richardson, 3rd June 1956): Superintendent Macdonald—getting to be quite the literary intellectual, now: he reads Ezra Pound’s “Pisan Cantos” in the plane—on holiday in Vienna, described in loving topographical detail. He is called in to handle tortuous murder case involving hot political memoirs. Usual solid job.
Birmingham Post: First class. The best writer of the roman policier in the country.
Yorkshire Evening Post: A rattling good thriller.