Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Dead Man in Trieste: Review

A Dead Man in Trieste is the first novel in Michael Pearce's series featuring Seymour of Special Branch. Growing up in the East End with exposure to the languages of many immigrants , Seymour has a special flair for languages that makes him invaluable to the Service and just the man to send to the Trieste when Lomax, the British Consul, goes missing. Of course, the older members of Special Branch aren't too sure--after all, he's "a member of one of those East End immigrant families from somewhere in Europe. He's all right, but with these blokes you never can tell. You can never rely on them. A bit dubious really." 

But with the mix of nationalities in Trieste--Austrians, Hungarians, Italians, Slavs, an Irishman or two, and a Bosnian/Croatian mix known as Herzegovinians [Seymour isn't even sure what that means]--Seymour feels more at home than some of those upperclass Foreign Office chappies might. He still has to feel his way carefully through the nationalist movements that are threatening to upset life in the port city. His real job, however, is to figure out exactly what Lomax had been up to and who he was involved with--no easy task, especially when he is acting in an unofficial capacity and keeping his position as a policeman hidden. 

On the surface, it looks like the Consul spent his days lolling at the tables at the Cafe of Mirrors in Piazza Grande, hobnobbing with the artistic crowd. Seymour knows there must be more to Lomax than that and the longer the man is missing the more sinister his absence seems. When Lomax's body is found by one of the fishing boats, it becomes apparent that the man was mixed up in something more than artistic endeavors and Seymour must work through the man's friends and the local police to discover what that something was.

Having read the second novel (A Dead Man in Istanbul), I decided to hunt up the debut of this series before reading any others. I have to say--if I had read this one first, I might not have gone on. Trieste, is a very slow-moving book. Very little action--until the end--and very little clue-gathering. For someone who likes their mysteries from the Golden Age where clues are strewn about, fair play is in force and an effort is made to distract the reader from the culprit, this is a disappointment. Not that I didn't guess who did it--I did. But not because there were clues to follow--simply because there really aren't that many people with motives to choose from. 

The book does give us an interesting look at Trieste before World War I broke out. Good period detail and historic descriptions of the tensions building in that area of the world. The cast of characters are quite colorful--although they could use a bit of depth. It was an okay read at ★★. Since #2 garnered three stars, we shall hope that the third novel (which I have sitting on the TBR pile) will be an improvement as well.

A bit of explanation--I am participating in the Travel the World Challenge and the European Reading Challenge. Although Trieste is now part of Italy, during the time period in which A Dead Man in Trieste takes place, it fell under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was considered part of Austia--serving as Austria's main trading port. I am therefore claiming this book under Austria for the purposes of the challenges.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

I was hoping this was going to be good but I'm not into a slow-moving one. Great review!