2011; 435 pages. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Historical Intrigue; Mystery. Overall Rating : 7½*/10.
King Ludwig II of Bavaria, best known for designing and commissioning his Neuschwanstein Castle (the prototype for the Disneyland castle), died under mysterious circumstances on the night of 13 June, 1886. The official cause of death is listed as “suicide by drowning”, but there was no water in his lungs, he was found in waist-high water, and was known to be an excellent swimmer. His companion also suffered the same fate.
That’s all quite interesting, but it happened more than 125 years ago. What Steven Lukas, owner of a small antiquarian bookstore in present-day Munich, wants to know is – why was one of his patrons murdered for reportedly having some sort of secret knowledge about Ludwig II’s demise?
More importantly, why are those same people trying to kill him?
What’s To Like...
The Ludwig Conspiracy cleverly switches between two timelines by means of a fictional character’s diary to combine Historical Fiction, Action Intrigue, and Murder-Mystery.
The historical fiction is a delight to read. Oliver Potzsch obviously did a bunch of research on Ludwig II’s life, death, and eccentricities; especially the last year of the King’s life. There is particular focus on the castles he built (or planned to build) and the political plots against him. It was a pivotal time in the region. Germany was coalescing into a unified European power, and the assimilation of the Kingdom of Bavaria into the nation was both a crucial and delicate process.
There is Action and Intrigue in both timelines, plus a little bit of Romance that doesn’t get in the way of the main story. The Murder-Mystery, along with all the other threads, gets tied up nicely at the end. This is a standalone novel.
Oliver Potzsch gives a ‘Cast of Characters’ at the front of the book, which comes in handy at the beginning, when you are trying to keep track of all the historical figures. He also includes a glossary at the back; you really should read it after you’ve finished the book. The writing and character development are okay, although I didn't really "connect" with the two protagonists. But the book is a translation, and I'll therefore cut it some slack. For all I know, in the original German, it may be quite powerful.
Kewlest New Word. . .
Tendentious (adj.) : expressing or intending to promote a particular cause or point of view, especially a controversial one.
“It was a Derringer,” the woman said.
Steven gave a start and looked up from the newspaper. “What?”
“The murder weapon. I’ve kept my ears pricked. Two .44 caliber rimfire cartridge cases were found at the scene. That kind of cartridge is out of use these days. However, ammunition like that was very common in the nineteenth century, in small ornamental pistols but most of all in the American Derringer. A pretty toy. But Abraham Lincoln was shot with a Derringer just like that.”
Steven frowned. “You mean the murder victim was killed by a weapon that doesn’t exist today?”
“Or by someone who shouldn’t be alive today.” (pg. 33)
Steven was different. He was clever, well-read, and obviously didn’t feel it was a problem if she took the lead now and then. But she felt as if he came from another planet. Even more: if women were from Venus and men were from Mars, then Steven came from Pluto, if not from the faraway Horsehead Nebula.
Which made him very interesting. (pg. 147)
“If you have graffiti and dog turds on your doorstep, a painting by Caravaggio is like a warm, refreshing shower.” (pg. 203)
There were some weaknesses. First, there was a wisp of “is it paranormal or isn’t it” in the storyline, particularly at the beginning of the book. But it wasn't developed to any appreciable extent, and by the end it had fizzled out without ever being completely resolved. I felt like Potzsch just sort of decided to abandon that angle.
There was also a riddle-solving thread that frankly was never believable. Protecting a secret is fine, but turning it into a scavenger hunt is implausible. I recognize it was a literary device so each of Ludwig’s castles could come into play in the plotline. But still. And the ease with which our plucky heroes decipher it is dumbfounding.
Finally, there was Lancelot. For the biggest, baddest, black-heartedest thug, he is surprisingly, and repeatedly, inept.
9 Stars for the Historical Fiction. 8½ Stars for the Action Intrigue. 5 Stars for the Puzzle-Solving. Which averages out to:
7½ Stars. The Ludwig Conspiracy is a decent enough read, but not an exceptional one. Oliver Potzsch is apparently better-known for his 4-book Hangman’s Daughter series, and my local library has a couple of these. I will probably be checking at least one of them out soon.