The Ludwig Conspiracy by Oliver Potzsch (Mariner Books, 2014). K Rating: 6/10.
This is the first book by this author that I have read, although I own other of his titles in my tremendous "to read" list, and was very excited about the prospect of this. Fairy-tale castles, praise as a "romantic thriller" on the cover, and an upcoming title about another beloved subject of mine, Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers!!! Perhaps it was too quick of me to think, based on his subject matter, that Potzsch was about to earn that esteemed place as one of my new favorite authors. If only. Oh, if only.
The precept was great, but all the things you'd hope to have in this novel--romantic tension, glittering descriptions of castles, deep mysteries of romantic Bavaria--all those fell short here. It hews entirely too closely to The Da Vinci Code: ciphers in place of depth, a secret about a powerful figure's bloodline, a mature male paired with a younger female, right down to the suspicious ally who knows everything, only divulging what he wishes when he wishes. I had really hoped for some more originality in the modern sections of this story. Must the protagonist be linked to the plot by blood? Are the circumstances setting up the novel not enough? If not, then, in my humble opinion, get back to the drawing board. I just wasn't drawn in by what I'll call the extensive frame story of this book-the dialogue was strange, the narrative was too maddeningly predictable, and the exposition of mysteries ten times over hit you like a redundant ton of bricks. It's like the guy who makes a joke. You get it, and then he says, "Did you get it? You know, because..." Fill in the blank. Yeah man, I got it. I got it the first time. Actually I got it even before the first time--nothing surprised me in this book, except my own disappointment. And how long the ending took-nearly 100 pages, which were worse than Two Face telling Batman exactly how the giant coin spins and how long it will take to crush him. This ending actually has the protagonist cooperating with the villain by the end for the sake of exposition! Ugh-bad, bad, bad. Overall, two major concerns threaded throughout I will address in short order:
Problem One: Where are my castles??
Potzsch's descriptions of the three castles visited in the book are done away with great haste, leaving me no idea of what the rooms looked like, how they were furnished, or anything to keep my creative juices flowing. If more of this is what you're looking for, and you can handle the capture animation of THIS doofy guy standing in for Gabriel Knight, rather than the brilliant Tim Curry (starring as the voice of G.K. in the first and third games in the series), then you'll have yourself a fine time.
Problem 2: Where's the romance?? I'm sorry,
but no, this is not a romance thriller by any stretch of the imagination. The characters are completely incompatible, the female is nothing if not downright bitchy most of the the time, and there's simply no chemistry on the page whatsoever. Nothing about their interactions change after their relationship is supposedly consummated, if you can read between the single line that references it. Epic fail in that regard. The romance taking place between Maria and Theodor Marot in the diary passages, however, MUCH more convincing. So I know he can write romance, and it leaves me wondering why he didn't try harder. If you're looking for a stronger romance thread woven into a thriller of this nature, try The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova on for size. Now that book I could not put down.
At this point, you may be asking yourself--why, oh why then, did I continue reading? The book's saving grace was the diary of Theodor Marot, written during Ludwig II's final days. Here, the author finds his strength--in intrigue, tension, romance, everything. It is a dreadful, sinful shame that THIS was not the book in its entirety. It would have been a near perfect read if it had been. So in short, I will hold out hope that this is a minor blip for an author who is known for period fiction, tried something new, and didn't quite execute it right. He can be forgiven for that. Shall I be buying his new historical thriller, Book of the Night: The Black Musketeers, set to be released next month? Eventually....possibly...most likely...but let's hope, not unfortunately.