Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Justine Ah is an American super model at the top of her game. Vienna is an autistic savant, living on her own for the first time, in a strange city where she knows nobody and nothing is familiar. It seems unlikely their paths would ever cross, but a cruel joke played on Vienna at a trendy Brussels nightclub ends with the two spending a night in bed together.
Justine expects this to be a one-night stand, but Vienna has different expectations. Against all odds, they become a couple. Vienna is lost, not adapting well to her new life in Brussels. Since the day she was rescued from an orphanage in Austria, the place of her birth, she’s been looked after. For most of her life, she’s lived in England with her foster father, the wealthy Arthur Emerson Grayfield. His friend and attorney, Sir Anson Davy, manages her affairs, and her life. It is he who sets her up in a flat in Brussels and gets her a job in an ice cream shop. Vienna is a genius with incredible recall for everything she’s ever read or heard, but her social skills and coping mechanisms are painfully lacking. At first angered at what she sees as Justine’s cavalier treatment of her, she finds there is a bond between them that is inexplicable as it is strong.
Justine has become tired and jaded by her jet set lifestyle. She begins to think she might be losing it while working in Budapest. She’s been doing fashion photo-shoots in several European cities, modeling couture clothing while posing with antique wooden mannequins. She tells her manager, James Hargrave, that the Budapest mannequin has moved and changed between the first day of shooting and the next. He is concerned that his top earner may be in trouble, which troubles him greatly. As she and Vienna grow closer, he’s even more distressed about his top money maker, but Justine will not send Vienna away.
Justine’s new companion gets worldwide attention, but it’s no longer a game changer for a celebrity to have a lesbian lover. They do become tabloid fodder when Justine’s long-time love Grant Eriksson, is found murdered in circumstances that put Justine and Vienna at the top of the suspect list.
The scandal leaves Justine’s modeling career in ruins. She is dropped by most of her employers; her endorsement deals disappear. Only Igor Czasky, who hired her for his Clay to Flesh modeling project, stands by her. She and Vienna develop a complicated but strong bond; each learning from the other. They combine their skills and abilities to investigate Grant’s death, traveling to other cities with the paparazzi hot on their trail. More deaths occur as the mystery deepens.
VIENNA is a unique twist on a Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson story, where the protagonists are female and there’s lots of sex and tortured love. Vienna’s mental abilities leave Sherlock in the dust. The intricate plot requires that the reader pay close attention. There are even more twists and turns than a Dan Brown novel, with secret societies, tales of inalienable artifacts, and ancient conspiracy theories carried into modern life. The truth of Vienna’s ancestry, along with Austrian history, play a major part in the final denouement.
Overall, VIENNA is an entertaining read. The two main characters provide an interesting and educational look into the lives of super models and high-functioning autistic savants. The other characters are fully fleshed out and believable, the writing crisp, the plot so convoluted that the reader may become lost. The unique aspects of the cities they visit add interest and color. The European history and mythology are skillfully entwined into the plot, adding to the depth of the story. The charms of the European cities are described in exquisite detail.
One mystery that is not solved: what is Vienna’s last name? Perhaps the author deliberately left it out to further obfuscate her identity; perhaps it will be revealed in a future book. Perhaps it’s left for the reader to ponder. No matter, it is an enjoyable mystery. Recommended.
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