Writing a debut novel is gotta be tough. Writing a decent one is probably even tougher. Faced with this daunting challenge, I’m sure many aspiring novelists simply throw in the towel before they’ve written a single paragraph. Some, perhaps unsure of their own abilities and fearing the uncertainties of the publishing world don’t even try. On top of that, there’s more than a few cynics out there who would contend that given what mass-marketed dreck passes for literature nowadays just about anyone can get something published. (Remember 50 Shades of Gray, anyone?) However, I would disagree. Considering how difficult it’s been for me just doing this blog, writing a first novel looks far from easy.
Maybe that’s why I’m pleasantly surprised whenever I find myself enjoying a debut novel.
One weekend at the public library I found a copy of Laura Lebow’s The Figaro Murders and needing something set in Austria for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge decided to take a chance on it. It struck me as one of those books that might be OK, but not spectacular. Happily, I can report that The Figaro Murders exceeded my simple expectations.
Set in Vienna during the time of Mozart and Salieri, Lebow’s novel begins with Lorenzo Da Ponte, an Italian expat and court librettist, seeing his favorite barber dragged off to debtors prison. On a quest to save his imprisoned friend, De Ponte follows an intriguing set of clues that lead him to the house of a local nobleman. Before long he’s coerced into solving a murder, becomes an unwilling pawn in political power plays and too much his surprise becomes a target for assassins. And on top of all of this, he needs to help his buddy Mozart get The Marriage of Figaro ready for opening night.
I liked The Figaro Murders. Lebow’s mystery is clever, fast-paced and well-written. Without revealing too much, for such a modest novel there’s a surprising degree of complexity when it comes to the whodunnit aspect of the plot. I also enjoyed Lebow’s passing references to the enlightened rule of Austrian Emperor Joseph II. (So much so I wouldn’t mind reading a good biography about the man.) This is an enjoyable mystery and I’m glad I stumbled upon it.