When there's murder in glittering Vienna, the unusual suspects include Freud

November 28, 1993|By Nancy Pate | Nancy Pate,Orlando Sentinel

Black horses gallop on the cobblestone streets. Lightning flashes through the rainy darkness to illuminate a swaying coach. Three shots ring out.

All is not well in fin de siecle Vienna. The city's glittering era of artistic vibrancy and scientific discovery also is a time of political discord and societal unrest. The rich go to the opera and eat strudel; factory workers wrap broken boots in rags to keep out the cold. Furthermore, Vienna's women are dying -- some by their own hands, others at the hands of a killer who has taken to sending the baffled police teasing notes: "Where oh where is Gertrude Van De Vere?/ Her head is in the bedroom/ And her arms are over there."

There even has been a murder at the home of noted psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Except now there is no corpse. Dr. Freud was in Paris on the night in question.

Certainly, fact and fiction merge in Carol De Chellis Hill's spirited and stylish new novel, "Henry James' Midnight Song." Real-life characters -- James, Freud, Edith Wharton, Carl Jung, among them -- all become suspects in the mysterious murders, which are being investigated by the famous French detective, Inspector Maurice Cheval LeBlanc.

There's no doubt that each has something to hide. Freud covers up his colleagues' indiscretions while carrying on with his sister-in-law. James, who has consulted Freud on a professional basis, stays up late at night reading romances and feeling guilty about two deaths.

Ms. Hill switches perspectives and settings with flashing speed, entering the minds and dreams of her large cast in a series of short chapters, some only a paragraph long. The result is a shimmering mosaic of a novel, enhanced by fluid, sensuous writing yet solidly cemented by a sharp intellect.

In fact, Ms. Hill so artfully mingles history with imagination that it's difficult to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. But that's as it should be. After all, it was Henry James himself who observed that fiction is just the other side of history.

Title: "Henry James' Midnight Song"

Authors Carol De Chellis Hill

Publisher: Poseidon

-! Length, price: 445 pages, $23

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