9780385601559 / 0385601557

The Fig Eater





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About the book:

It is August 1910, and Vienna is still the beautiful gas-lit jewel of a grand, if fading, empire. One night in the Volksgarten, a young woman is found strangled and an unnamed police officer takes the case. The victim is the highly strung daughter of a bourgeois family, and the search for her murderer soon becomes serious. Yet painstaking forensics yield little except one curious clue: Dora ate a fresh fig--unavailable in Vienna in August--only moments before she died. The inspector shares the details with his Hungarian wife, who is well versed in Gypsy lore, not to mention the odder features of the human psyche, and she immediately begins her own private inquiry:

When Erszébet smelled the disinfectant, the scent of the girl on his hands, she suddenly wished to possess her. To understand the puzzle of how her life led to her death. To know her. When she first heard the girl had died in the park, there was something--a needle prick of menace, a cruel loneliness--that was familiar. It felt true as a memory. This recognition startled her.

Dora's life may have been outwardly proper, but it turns out to have been charged with sexuality: her best friend, Frau Zellenga, was her family's neighbour and her father's mistress. Even as the two families pretend the situation is normal and that Dora must have been killed by a stranger, the inspector and Erszébet both suspect that the girl must have known her killer. Soon, even the rational inspector turns to the supernatural world for clues.

The term atmospheric is perhaps too often applied to historical mysteries, but Jody Shields's first novel merges science and mysticism, the historical details of Viennese daily life and its repressed eroticism so gorgeously that it transcends that description. --Barrie Trinkle

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