Thursday, February 04, 2010

J. Sydney Jones, Guest Blogger

I'd like to welcome guest blogger, J. Sydney Jones today. J. Sydney Jones is the author of twelve books, including the first two Viennese Mystery novels, The Empty Mirror and Requiem in Vienna. A long-time resident of Vienna, Austria, he now lives in Santa Cruz, California. Visit him at

Written by an acclaimed expert on Vienna and its history, The Empty Mirror introduces a new series of stunning historical mysteries that reveals the culture and curiosities of this fascinating fin de siècle metropolis. The series begins with artist Gustav Klimt accused of murder.

What the reviewers are saying about The Empty Mirror:
"A colorful story that neatly combines fact and fiction.”
--The Washington Post

"Jones . . . deftly melds fact with fiction in a novel that will appeal to mystery aficionados as well as history buffs.”--Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Jones's absorbing whodunit succeeds both as a mystery and as a fascinating portrait of a traditional society in ferment. ... Jones delivers a meaty historical that bodes well for further adventures.” --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Jones’ novel boasts well-fleshed characters, a good sense of place, and solid plotting—all signs of series potential. This one bears watching.” --Booklist

Set during the peak of Vienna's cultural renaissance and featuring some of the city's most colorful residents, including Gustav Mahler, Requiem in Vienna is perfect historical fiction – rich description, vivid characters, and a mystery that will leave readers guessing till the very last moment.

What the reviewers are saying about Requiem in Vienna:

"A rich, beautifully written historical mystery...first class." --Booklist (starred review)

"Confident prose and mastery of historical detail, woven into a convincing narrative, make this sophisticated entertainment of a very high caliber." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Jones's fine second Viennese mystery ... smoothly blends a compelling period whodunit with bountiful cultural and social details.” -- Publishers Weekly

Welcome, Syd.

I am most pleased to have the opportunity to guest blog for Lesa. The timing is excellent, as Requiem in Vienna, the second novel in my Viennese Mystery series had its launch on February 2.

I am a bit of a hybrid as a writer. I started out in nonfiction though fiction has always been my first love. The game plan at the time was to gain publishing credits through travel writing (I was living in Vienna and other places in Europe), and then build on those to narrative history (including a survey of Vienna 1900), and from there I would move to fiction. Well, duhh. Not being a graduate of a writing program, I really had no idea how the publishing industry works and how easy it is to get pigeonholed.

Anyway, a long explanation to get to the fact that I did eventually make the crossover in genres, but all of my fiction is heavily rooted in history, whether thrillers, young adult titles, or mysteries. I love the resonance you find in historical times with events in contemporary times. My Viennese Mystery series is inspired by the cultural and intellectual renaissance that took place in Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century. As people are increasingly recognizing, that city in the two decades before World War I created our modern sensibility through the works of such seminal artists, writers, and thinkers as Klimt, Kokoschka, Schiele, Otto Wagner, Loos, Schnitzler, Mahler, Freud, and Wittgentstein. At the same time, Vienna 1900 was also the breeding ground for such future tyrants as Trotsky, Stalin, and Hitler. I have spent many years researching the time and first used such research in my Hitler in Vienna, 1907-13, which a reviewer for the Philadelphia Inquirer thought "strikingly re-creates the sights and sounds of life under the dying Austrian monarchy." But it was not until I happened on another historical figure that the idea for a series of mystery/thrillers set in Vienna 1900 came to life.

Before the fictional Sherlock Holmes, there were the real-life exploits of the Austrian father of criminology, Dr. Hanns Gross, pioneer in modern methods of crime detection, including crime-scene preservation, the gathering and examination of footprints and fingerprints, the study of blood traces and weapons, handwriting analysis, and the vetting and interviewing of witnesses and suspects.

Gross is an irascible egoist; I decided to pair him with a younger man in many ways his opposite: the resourceful and wealthy lawyer/writer, Karl Werthen, who is a fictional creation. Werthen is the real protagonist of these novels, but don’t tell Gross that. Each of the episodes in the Viennese Mystery series focuses on one of the luminaries of the period: in the first book, The Empty Mirror, the artist Klimt is accused of murder; in the second, Requiem in Vienna, the composer Mahler finds himself the target of an assassin. Werthen and Gross ultimately team up to investigate such incidents, and their investigations generally take them far beyond where they expect, turning these historical novels into a blend of mystery and thriller. The series begins in 1898 and is planned to take the reader through 1915 and the first year of the Great War, the year in which Gross died.

Rather than cast my characters in stone and have them never age, I make their passage through life part of the novels and part of the series arc. Werthen has another and more loving partner than Gross in these novels, his wife, Berthe. They are both Jewish, but while Werthen’s family is much assimilated, Berthe’s father is a noted Talmudic scholar who sometimes comes to the aid of Werthen and Gross. Berthe, a journalist and social reformer, partners with her husband in his investigations and via her network of friends, including the feminist writer Rosa Mayreder, helps to give a different perspective to incidents. Through the course of this series Werthen and Berthe’s domestic life and their relationships with their often-difficult parents form a steady backdrop.

In addition to Werthen, Berthe, and Gross, Vienna itself is a major character in this series. I went to Vienna initially as a student. It was my first experience of a big city and I fell in love with the place. The city was most definitely Central European with the ambience of a much earlier time. Faded elegance best describes Vienna during that time; for a young man who loved history, Vienna was a living museum. I stayed on for almost two decades after my student year, working and living in other parts of Europe as well, but always coming back to Vienna, my second home. Vienna soon became a theme for my writing; I have written several nonfiction works about the city, and in addition to my Viennese Mystery series, I also set the stand-alone thriller, Time of the Wolf, there during World War II. Thus I deliberately and quite happily blend Viennese history and landmarks into the work, as many reviewers have noted.

These books are intended, first and foremost, as entertainments. Mystery morphs into thriller in each as Werthen and Gross often find themselves over their heads in intrigue and danger. Yet at the same time I want to look at historical issues, such as the development of anti-Semitism in late nineteenth century Europe, or the birth of the feminist movement. Many such issues arise as part of an investigation; sometimes they also come about via domestic concerns of the protagonists. I hope that readers will agree with bestselling author Karen Harper’s assessment of the series: “What Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did for Victorian London and Caleb Carr did for old New York, J. Sydney Jones does for historic Vienna.”

Thank you, Syd. J. Sydney Jones blogs at

Requiem in Vienna by J. Sydney Jones. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2010. ISBN 9780312383909 (hardcover), 304p.


Kaye said...

This sounds like a fascinating novel, one I would definitely want to read. While I was skimming through blogger updates, Mr. Jones's picture stopped me in my tracks; he is a dead ringer for my cousin Bert!

J. Sydney Jones said...

I hope you brave the Amazon black out of us Macmillan authors and are able to find a copy of the book. I must guarantee you that I am not, repeat not, your cousin Bert.

Lesa said...

Good morning, Syd, and thank you again. Oh, I can assure you that Kaye has ways of getting books that you wouldn't believe. And, I'm sure she knows a few independent bookstores that could handle an order.

Thanks, Kaye!

J. Sydney Jones said...

Hey Lesa,
Thanks again for the opportunity to sit in for you on this blog. Great site!

Lesa said...

Thank you very much, Syd. I don't know how much traffic there will be today, and many people just come and read the blog, and don't comment. But, I appreciate your time. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to reading these books. I was just a tourist in Vienna but its history and "faded elegance" captivated me. I was with a tour group but I spent a day by myself, taking a taxi to places I wanted to visit before we went on to Budapest. I really want to read "Time of the Wolf."

Lesa, thanks for introducing me to Mr. Jones! (-:

Pat Browning

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Pat. You're the perfect audience, someone who has been to Vienna, and loved it. I hope you enjoy his books!

J. Sydney Jones said...

Glad to hear of your connection to Vienna. If you have trouble getting a copy of Time of the Wolf, email me (my Web site has contact info) and I will get one to you.