Never has a book been more appropriately named as Café Europa by Ed Ifkovic. The real star of this novel is the café, located in Budapest and frequented by a mixed cast of characters, including heiresses, revolutionaries, muckrakers, suffragettes, and aging singers. The year is 1914 and there are rumblings of war. Edna Ferber, a young writer, is travelling with her mother, when a squabble leads her to take a train to Budapest. Her travelling companion, Winifred Moss, accompanies Edna, who intends to visit the homeland of her father.
The women land at the Café Europa and its accompanying hotel. While there, they encounter the flighty Cassandra Blaine, a young, wealthy American who is promised to marry a stodgy member of the nobility. Cassandra’s heart, however, belongs to Endre Molnar, a wealthy man who loves her. Also at the hotel is the enterprising reporter, Harold Gibbon, who seeks to get to the bottom of Cassandra’s romance, as well as to expose political dealings in Budapest (he works for William Randolph Hearst). When Cassandra ends up dead, Harold sticks his nose in where it does not belong, and soon, there is more than one murder to solve.
I found Café Europa to be in the vein of older historical mysteries. Having just read quite a few of them, I recognized the structure and most notably the way the “reveal” of the true evildoer is executed. The whole murder plot was explained then and there as the murderer was unmasked. This is not a bad thing—just something to note if one likes a traditional mystery. It seemed very much in the vein of mysteries written in the 1940’s.
What I enjoyed most about this novel was its strong sense of place. Budapest is the star of this novel. The reader really gets a sense of what it was like leading up to the war. Historical events are integrated into the plot and were well used to push along the plot. The inclusion of details of this historic city and its mores was very well done.
The mystery, for me, was not really the compelling part of the novel. I was not connected enough to Cassandra to care about her murder, and I was so annoyed by Harold that I was glad he was dead. But, the historical context makes this mystery a book worth reading. Traditional mystery readers would find this book, and others in the series, quite interesting to read.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina