30 January 1889, the royal hunting lodge in the village of Mayerling in Austria. Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and Baroness Mary Vetsera lie dead, victims apparently of a suicide pact. This was a momentous historical event that led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdninand twenty five years later. But was suicide the true cause of death?
The Vatican is unsure and sends its emissary Nicholas Segalla, the undying man, to investigate matters. But no one in Austria is willing to help – despite not wishing to offend the Holy Church. Soon Segalla starts to have his own doubts. Why did no-one hear the fatal shots? Why was Mary buried almost immediately? But with everyone covering up for everyone else, and some members of the Austrian court determined that the truth remains hidden, can the killer – if there even was one – be unmasked?
No, I hadn’t heard about the Mayerling incident either. But it’s well-documented and has been dramatised a number of times, most notably in the film The Illusionist, and the aftermath is of clear historical importance. And it seems that the truth has never been established.
There is a problem with “real” historical mysteries – usually it’s an either-or situation. Take The Daughter Of Time – either Richard killed the princes or Henry did. And, given the nature of the book, it’s unlikely to be the former – after all, that portrait is so convincing. Doherty’s work on real mysteries is similar as well – The Death Of A King – did Edward II die in prison or not? The Whyte Harte – did Richard II die in prison or not? It’s hard to make the mystery intriguing when it’s pretty clear what didn’t happen and when there’s only one alternative. To be fair, the Doherty books are great, but here, the problem doesn’t present itself. There’s no single alternative to the given facts presented so it’s much more of a mystery than is often the case.
One that’s pretty light on clues, to be fair, but this is a great read, with theories abounding pointing the blame at pretty much all of the characters at some point. And with the added bonus of some powerful people trying to cover up what they THINK happened, there’s heaps of misdirection abounding. And at the end of the day, the guilty party or parties are very well hidden – I was genuinely surprised and that doesn’t happen very often.
One of the best of Doherty’s “true historical crime” books. Highly Recommended.
NB Ignore the subtitle on the cover – no time-travel is involved here.