THE COUNTESS OF PRAGUE
By Stephen Weeks
“The Countess of Prague” introduces the indomitable Beatrice von Falkenburg, otherwise known as Trixie, who is 28 when we meet her in 1904 in Prague. A bored wife who does not enjoy her privileges in high society—and whose aristocratic husband has fallen on hard times anyway—Trixie finds a new career as a detective, when the body of an old man is found in the Vltava River. The dead man is identified as the former officer and friend of her colorful military Uncle Bertie—or is he indeed the dead man? The plot thickens immediately, revolving around a Tontine, a gambling syndicate based on the life expectancy of the members’ proxies. The corpse (maybe) was the uncle’s ticket to fortune.
Trixie plunges into the tangled web of the case as it evolves, in what author Stephen Weeks promises will be the first of a ten-part series that covers ten years, up through the onset of World War I in 1914. Weeks tells a rollicking tale that takes its heroine through the changing Old World order of Europe in historically accurate fashion, with London and Prague providing the primary locations. Teaming up with lower-class waifs, her butler, and maid, Trixie disguises herself as a young man and is suspected of committing a new grisly murder herself. Eventually (of course) she figures it all out in a rousing climax that involves King Edward, Kaiser Wilhelm, a lethal gas, homophobia, and blackmail.
Weeks, a castle restorer, filmmaker, and writer, is a Brit living in Prague, and I predict that his clever plots, historical accuracy, and descriptive flair will make this series a hit. Here, for instance, is his description of the chief archivist for The Times of London, a minor but delicious character, “a man of very small stature, who sat on his high stool like a gnome. He had lank hair, a high forehead and eyes that were so shrunken-looking behind the extremely thick lenses of his round spectacles that his gaze resembled that of a reptile.”