When Marc Bergmann, the city’s local womaniser, shows up dead on a park bench in the middle of Salzburg, the arduous task of narrowing down the long list of possible perpetrators begins. Suspects include his jilted wife Alexia, his furious in-laws who knew he was being unfaithful, Alexia’s childhood friend Jan who evidently harbours very strong feelings for her, Marc’s secret fiancée, and a string of other jealous lovers. Add in a connection to the mob, and it’s anyone’s guess who had the most motive.
Death by Truffles (original title Pralinen des Todes) is the first book in the Inspector Quentin Neuner mystery series by Austrian author Marie Anders, whose novels are all set in the Austrian city of Salzburg and its surrounding area; the fifth novel will be published in Anders’ native German in March this year, while the third book from the series – Tod Im Grünen Klee (Death in the Green Clover) – is currently being translated into English.
Our story opens with Alexia, an art gallery owner, tearfully telling first her business partner Mia, and then lawyer and old family friend Jan, that her husband Marc wants a divorce. As the chapters unfold, and we are introduced to all the key players in this story, Anders swiftly and vividly builds up a sense of just how many people have reason to be angry with Marc. Whether it’s conversations about him, or interactions with him, several of the characters have outbursts that could be construed as thinly veiled threats against Marc.
Alexia’s parents have never liked Marc, and her father in particular has never made any effort to hide this. When they catch Marc openly cheating on Alexia at a local restaurant, a threatening confrontation ensues, and the following day Marc is found dead. At this stage, we are introduced to our main man, Inspector Quentin Neuner. As the investigation gets underway, Marc’s various affairs, and other shady dealings, including a link with a well-known gangster, come to light; only serving to expand our pool of possible suspects.
Death by Truffles, even in its dramatic title (Marc’s demise is brought about by a delicious but deadly batch of chocolates), follows all the criteria of a classic murder-mystery crime novel. We have the sharp and often grumpy inspector; his enthusiastic and ever-patient assistant Charlie, who often spots things he doesn’t or brings him key pieces of the puzzle through her research; and a diverse array of possible suspects between whom we ricochet, until that sudden eureka moment where the inspector spots something – withheld from the reader at that exact point – which solves the whole case.
The chapters are short, moving swiftly between scenes with the different suspects, and the dialogue is lively and informal, which moves the story along at great pace and makes this a quick read. The English translation seems to have retained a very authentic sense of Anders’ voice; particularly evident in some of the expressions and phrasing used which, especially for readers familiar with the German language, should evoke an accurate representation of the original feel of the dialogue, as Anders would have written it. The dialogue is full of good humour and lively joking between characters, not to mention the various love interests, romantic entanglements and tensions, which emerge.
Anders is a very descriptive writer; from her characters’ appearances, demeanours and behaviour, to what they eat and the interiors in which the various scenes take place. Painting the scene in detail for us seems key to her writing style. Subtle shifts in facial expressions is one of the classic features used to incriminate characters, and pretty much each suspect in turn is given a scene in which some reaction, be it subtle or not, is a possible hint at their guilt. The book’s back-cover blurb sets the story in the ‘beautiful city of Salzburg’ and the novel’s epigraph is a very poetic and sensory paragraph describing the feel and sound of Salzburg, giving us a real sense of the pride and delight Anders’ takes in her home city. Descriptions of weather are also often used for dramatic effect; thunderous rain falls at pivotal moments, and the oppressive heat of the city is often mentioned when Quentin is deep in thought about the case.
This is a fun and fast-paced read, following the classic format of murder-mystery crime novels and throwing all sorts of red herrings in to keep us guessing up until the last moment who the killer is. It should appeal to fans of this genre who are keen to get a taste of international crime writing translated into English.
Marie Anders was born in Kirchdorf an der Krems, in Upper Austria. She grew up multilingual in an international environment and has lived, studied, and worked in the United States, Serbia, Russia, France, and Germany. She has recently returned to live and work in Austria. You can find out more about Marie Anders, and order her books, at her website – https://www.marieanders.at/
Thank you to publishers Brinkley Verlag for my gifted copy of Death By Truffles. This edition is from 2021 and is translated from the original German by Marika Langbrugger.