The Mosel Legacy, novel by David Peretz, Disc-Us Books, p 199
When David Peretz sent me an email and asked if I would be interested in reviewing his two novels, I was thrilled with the prospect of doing so. I don’t believe that I have met him previously although we shared several professional interests. When I opened to the first page of the book and saw that it was set in Vienna in March 1938 , which was few months before Sigmund Freud escaped from that city with his daughter Anna. I thought for sure that this psychiatrist and psychoanalyst author was going to include the father of psychoanalysis somehow in his story. For the first part of the book, I kept waiting for my fantasy to turn out to be true but actually the word Freud was only mentioned once in the book in passing and that was as in a description of Vienna, noting the great minds that lived and worked in this once vibrant city.
Instead, Peretz presented in his first published novel a suspense thriller which led a modern day New York City detective to travel to Vienna on a personal quest and an odyssey in which he discovered more than he ever imagined he would find. Ross Cortese is an Italian –American recent widower who has a great relationship with his grown kids and his parents. He is need of some cash and decides to find out if some antique furniture given to him by his father has any value. After a visit to a prominent NYC auction house he realizes it is quite valuable . Word gets back to Erich Hanfnagel, a wealthy Viennese business man collector who learns that these items of furniture made by Kirmen Mosel, a famed furniture maker, have surfaced and would complete his collection of these great pieces . He sends his beautiful daughter Willi to visit Cortese and the web of intrigue, romance and danger begins to spin.
The novel was published in 1999 and has some important events happening in 1938 but mostly takes place in 1990. The political setting depicted in Vienna reflects the real rise of neo Nazism taking place in Austria at that time. While not mentioned by name in the book The Freedom party led by Austrian politician Jorg Haider was appealing to a still present anti-Semitism and nostalgia for the Third Reich which was an undercurrent in the city. Peretz personalizes this ferment in the plot of his story as his hero Ross Cortese while trying to find out the true story about the furniture and his family history encounters the Hanfnagel family and their cronies.
In the early part of the novel I was reminded of the more or less stereotyped detective stories that we all read which in this case had a touch of everyday dialog, some sex, violence, mystery and politics. In Peretz’s novel poverty was described as “You didn’t have two nickels to rub together.” When things heated up we read “ She kissed him ardently one more time, then stood and began to undress” ( and much more ). Then we had “It will appear as if the Minister and the driver were in the wrong place at the wrong time…No one will feel safe with a gang of murderous immigrants roaming the streets of Vienna .”
The author seemed to get his writer’s legs as the story progressed. I focused less on the dialog which was now flowing easily and I was carried into the plot. I could see the characters and felt the emotion of the story which could not help but have some personal meaning to me as it obviously did to Peretz. The rise of the Nazis in Europe was being retold by the storyline which dramatically demonstrated how this impacted on one Jewish family living in Vienna in 1938 which could have been a distant relatives of so many of us. It was also very personal to Ross Cortese who was aware of sinister events which were about to happen in present day Vienna. Would justice triumph ? Would there be retribution and would there be forgivenenss ? It was all very well thought out . The past related to the present and the here and now related to the past. Good psychiatric thinking and a very good story. Not bad at at all for a first novel. It was well worth reading.
I am looking forward to reading Dr. Peretz’s second novel which came out nine years later and which I will review in a few weeks.