Dead, Mr. Mozart (1994) by Bernard Bastable (Robert Barnard)
In Bastable's alternate-history mystery, we have Mozart surviving into his sixties and making his home in England. His musical fortunes haven't been all that for a while, but the anticipated coronation of King George IV is going to provide an ideal opportunity to dust off some of his best operas and to write a new one in honor of the coronation season. Just as he has everything set--with patronage from Lord Hertford to mount the opera season and one brilliant, experienced singer and one brilliant young singer (both beautiful women) to lead the company--an element of intrigue is introduced. Those who support the new King are eager to find a way to thoroughly discredit his estranged Queen and those who support Caroline of Brunswick are out to foil any such plans. Hertford is in the King's camp and has found a witness who could definitely make England too hot to handle for Caroline. If the witness lives to testify....
One of the most deadly dull mysteries I have ever read. I have thoroughly enjoyed nearly all of the mysteries Barnard wrote under his own name. All but one garnered three stars or more. But this....Mozart, one of the most interesting composers, is a flat character. I'm not sure why Bastable thought it an excellent idea to come up with an 1820 England where Mozart is still alive and churning out potboiler music as a living, but I think it would have been kinder to leave him in the grave. He (Mozart) is also a gossip for hire--Lady Hertford wants him to send reports on her husband's business in the opera house and for a small purse full of coins he's willing to do so. Casting him in the role of amateur detective also falls short of the mark. He's not very good at it and he's not even very interesting as a poor detective. The mystery plot itself is also not much--you think there's going to be all this political intrigue surrounding the new King George and his controversial Queen, but that just sortof fizzles. The murder is pointless. The detective work is pointless. And the extension of Mozart's life for this story...pointless. If you haven't tried Barnard's work before, I would suggest you try something written under his own name. ★
First line: I had hardly turned out of my apartment home in Henrietta Street and begun in the direction of the Strand when I was struck by something unusual: almost all the people I passed were in their soberest dress, and had on their faces expressions of more than the usual dyspeptic English melancholy.
Last line: By the time I reached home I was infused with that lunatic optimism which, against all likelihood, against all experience, against all reason, buoys up those who are condemned to spend a life sentence working in the opera house.
Deaths = 2 (one natural; one stabbed)