I finally got to and through Laura LeBow's entertaining and clever The Figaro Murders, thus far the first of a two volume historical mystery series. Set in 1780"s Vienna under the "enlightened" Emperor Joseph II, the story centers on Lorenzo da Ponte, librettist to Mozart, poet, man about town, and "character" in his own right. Da Ponte and Mozart are busy finishing up and getting The Marriage of Figaro on stage amidst that rather nasty "politics of opera" in Vienna in those days. The opera concomitantly provides the framework for the broader story of the novel. The center of action is the house of Count Gabler, where the occupants match up with characters in the opera. But their "characters" in the story, the sequence of the action, and their ultimate fates are often different. It all starts when Da Ponte's good friend and "barber" who used to be valet to the Count (the Figaro match-up), asks Da Ponte to locate his birth mother after his shop has been closed for indebtedness. He visits the Count's house to meet with "Susanna," after which the Cherubino character -- a nasty little s$%# who's been bedding the Countess -- is murdered. The Emperor dubs Da Ponte as the best person to solve the case. He moves in under the guise as poetry instructor to the Countess to smoke out the killer AND a suspected spy for King Frederick of Prussia. So, he's looking for the killer, the spy, and the barber's birth mother and working like hell to get the opera on the road. Busy man. Then the Countess is murdered and the Barbarina character is seriously injured. Alas, it's the Italian music master (Basilio match) who is the villain of the piece, who then kills himself. Everyone is identified, and the opera is a smashing success. Exhausted, Da Ponte just wants to get back to music.
Despite best intentions, I'm hooked. The sequel is Sent to the Devil. Da Ponte and Mozart are fine tuning Don Giovanni for its opening in Vienna after its successful premier in Prague -- then the bodies start falling and our favorite sleuth is back at it again. More on that later. Very clever. Have a go.
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