Austrian Crime – Some Reasons Why You Might Like Alex Beer’s Crime Series

Alex Beer is an Austrian crime writer whose books have won many prestigious prizes. The Leo Perutz Preis and the Austrian Krimipreis, among others. Alex Beer was born in Bregenz. She lives in Vienna. The August Emmerich series is her first series. She’s now writing another one with a protagonist called Isaak Rubinstein.

I discovered her August Emmerich crime series at the book shop a while ago. Usually I don’t read historical crime, or very rarely, but the setting – Vienna after WWI – immediately caught my attention. It’s such a fascinating period. Unfortunately, they didn’t have book one at the book shop, so I picked the third in the series instead. That was a mistake, as I liked it very much, and will now have to go back and start with book one. That’s the reason, why this isn’t a proper review, as, so far, only the first in the series, The Second Rider, was translated. I’m sure it’s every bit as good as the third one though. I wish I had waited and ordered the first as some of what happens in Emmerich’s life in book three, spoils the first two books.

The main protagonists of the series are August Emmerich and his side-kick Ferdinand Winter, of the Austrian police force. Emmerich is a war veteran. Because of a war injury he’s in a lot of pain and has a tough time running or walking. Winter comes from a formerly rich family who has lost everything during the war. As he’s so good looking, women warm to him quite a bit. They are both likable, complex characters and I enjoyed their relationship very much.

While they are police detectives, they don’t shy away from bending the rules, if necessary. In book three, they also hunt a crime boss for personal reasons, which makes the series a bit of blend between a police procedural and a PI novel. The descriptions, mood, and atmosphere, all contribute to that as well.

The crime they must solve in book three, is suspenseful and so is the subplot, involving the crime boss, but that’s not what won me over. What I absolutely loved, besides the atmosphere, was the way Vienna was described. People are so poor. The city’s rife with criminals. There are hardly any goods available outside of the black market, where they cost a fortune. People are hungry, kids are starving. Antisemitism is on the rise. People already shout they want the annexation of Austria into Germany. The books, set in 1919 and 1920 respectively, show a country under shock. The massive multilingual Empire has been dissolved. All that remains is the comparatively small Austria, mourning its former glory.

While reading Joseph Roth, I got a feel for how huge the Austro-Hungarian Empire was. When you see what’s left after WWI, you can understand why so many think it’s all a very bad dream. Add to that the poverty and criminality, which make Vienna a very unsafe place, and you can imagine how desperate the people were.

Historical novels excel when they give you a feel for a period but also when they pique your curiosity and entice you to read more about a certain time and place. Alex Beer’s novels do exactly that. This was way more than an entertaining book. It’s rich in atmosphere and full of fascinating details. An excellent choice for those who like to read women/crime in translation.

Jacqueline Winspear: Maisie Dobbs (2003) The First Maisie Dobbs Mystery

I’m not sure who mentioned Maisie Dobbs first. Either Danielle on A Work in Progress or Kailana on The Written World. Whoever it was I’m glad she did as Maisie is an amazing heroine. I really like her and the way she goes about her job. The period details are captured in a very descriptive way, reading often felt like watching a movie.

The story begins in London, 1929. Maisie Dobbs has opened her first office. She is a private investigator and psychologist who has been trained by a master of the art, Maurice Blanche, a friend of Lady Rowan, on whose estate Maisie used to be a maid.

Her first investigation leads her to follow the wife of Christopher Davenham. He suspects her to have a lover. What Maisie finds out is quite different from what Davenham and the reader think and will lead Maisie to investigate a crime and confront her with her own past.

The second part of the novel rewinds to 1910-1917. In 1910 Maisie is just a girl who lives alone with her father after her mother has died. She is unusually intelligent and her parents wanted to send her to college later but the mother’s illness has swallowed up all of their money and Maisie is sent to Lady Rowan as a maid. They soon find out about Maisie’s fondness for reading and learning and give her a private tutor, Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a special fellow with an eye for people and an unusual capability of seeing behind the masks.

Maisie finally goes to university and is about to embark on a splendid academic career when WWI breaks out. Like so many other young women she volunteers as a nurse and is sent to France where the man she has recently fallen in love with is serving as a doctor.

Maisie’s life story, the crime and its solution are all rooted in WWI. While I didn’t think the crime was gripping I thought the way the book revealed what happened to Maisie during the war was suspenseful. I truly admired the way it managed to convey an idea of WWI. Maisie and many other characters still suffer from various ailments or traumas. This, for example, is Maisie at the beginning of the novel.

Lucky, thought Maisie. Except for the war, I’ve had a lucky life so far. She sat down on the dubious oak chair, slipped off her shoes and rubbed her feet. Feet that still felt the cold and wet and filth and blood of France. Feet that hadn’t felt warm in twelve years, since 1917.

Facial wounds play and important role. The wounds and how society and the wounded handle them. But the horror of the trenches, the constant rain, mud and cold are rendered as well.

It’s certainly a novel that appeals to many people. To those who like cozy mysteries, to those who are interested in WWI. Fans of the upstairs-downstairs theme will love the middle section. Maisie Dobbs is a likable and clever character and to get to know the way how she reads people is fascinating. Her way of working is a mix of psychological analysis and psychic abilities that I enjoyed a great deal.

There are by now 9 books in the series and the fans and followers are numerous.

Because of its lovely design and a lot of information it is worth to visit Jacqueline Winspear’s Website.

If you are interested, March is Maisie Month on Facebook.

Maisie Dobbs is my third contribution to Anna and Serena’s War Through the Generations challenge.