I keep getting variations of crime/thriller novels and I am eating them up! (Though a computer-battery fiasco held up my reading for a few days, much to my dismay) So here are my thoughts on Nik Grybaski‘s novel Black Danube: A Leo Katz Mystery.
By the way; here’s a link to my vlog!
This is another murder mystery that’s got murder, kidnapping, fights for social justice, corrupt governments, and so much more. Set in late 1800s Vienna, the story follows Leo Katz, a police photographer with a heavy secret and friends who work in the morgue. One morning, he’s called to photograph a crime scene–but he’s requested to also take photos with his secret camera… oooooh
Okay, so I’ll admit, the first bit of the narrative, while interesting–the crime scene is that of a murdered Jewish activist and his fiancé is the prime suspect in the eyes of the Gentile-police force–wasn’t exactly the most captivating. It was entertaining, certainly one of those crimes that doesn’t seem quite right so you want to know what happens next, but it wasn’t until a few more chapters in that I really started to be truely enthralled in the story.
Like, what was up with Inspector Kerner? Why was he simultaneously so reluctant to help Katz and his friends Klaus and Lucy, but then also going out of his way to slip them clues? Who’s this strange little fiddler-on-the-roof-like beggar man who speaks in riddles? Who is this Gruber guy, why is everyone afraid of him, and why is he such a jerk for the one scene that we see him early on.
But not only did those questions make me interested in the story. I also really enjoyed the references to characters–who turned out to be real people–who lead interesting lives. I thought Dora, the aspiring photographer was such a fun, spitfire kind of character; as was Emmy, a political activist–both were real life people, and I loved that Grybaski gave them short bios at the end of the book. In fact, I think the whole conversation about women’s rights and “a woman’s place” was really well done–I was, without a doubt–infuriated by the ignorance and foulness of the clearly sexist characters, but encouraged and loved the drive that essentially all of the female characters displayed. So, I loved the social commentary–both regarding female-male interactions/expectations, but also between the Jewish-Gentile tensions. I can honestly say that it broke my heart, and frustrated me more than I was expecting to hear some of the things said about the Jewish characters–especially the fiancé who was accused of murder.
Overall, I think it’s an excellent book and would highly recommend it, especially if you like thriller/crime books and historical fictions too. The plot was well thought out, and while the exposition was a little slow at first, the pacing was also well done.
I suppose if derogatory terms for women such as “whore/slut/bitch” are particularly triggering for you, parts of the book will be difficult. There’s also a semi-vivid (I wouldn’t go so far as to say graphic, but it’s definitely detailed) exorcism scene that was kind of intense as well. But other than a few small details like that, and of course, the antisemitism, I can’t really think of a reason why you wouldn’t like the book. I believe that those difficult discussions are important–we have to remember that prejudice did and still does exist, and when it’s discussed in creative, respectful ways, books can be really excellent tools for discussing these hot-topics.