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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Vienna Blood

Adrian Mathews

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To purchase Vienna Blood

Title: Vienna Blood
Author: Adrian Mathews
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 386 pages
Availability: Vienna Blood - US
Vienna Blood - UK
Vienna Blood - Canada
Wiener Blut - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : a solid thriller set in the near future, a good read.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman B- 19/3/1999 Martyn Bedford
The Times A 27/2/1999 Peter Millar

  From the Reviews:
  • "If Vienna Blood warrants praise for its ambition, this is also, paradoxically, its undoing. (.....) so much space is required to explain the novel's scientific and political context that the dramatic momentum is repeatedly disrupted, a serious flaw for a thriller, no matter how substantial its literary intentions. Ultimately, the book is a cerebral rather than emotional experience for the reader, as I suspect it was for the author." - Martyn Bedford, New Statesman

  • "This is science and fiction at the cutting edge." - Peter Millar, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Adrian Mathews' ambitious thriller is set in Vienna, Austria, in the year 2026. Carefully choosing setting and period, Mathews presents a Vienna that is both eerily familiar and yet believably transformed. The technological advances that touch on everyday life are a believable mix of the expected and the truly innovative, with nothing too far removed from the present. Politically, too, the landscape is largely plausible (except, perhaps, President Schwarzenegger), with rightist nationalist groups of different stripes playing a significant if not yet dominant role (much as they do now in many European countries).
       Mathews avoids the trap of painting a broad dystopia (or utopia), opting for realistic science fiction. Science does play a big role in this novel -- in the form of genetic engineering -- but Mathews deftly weaves it into a broader story that cares as much about character, politics, and social implications.
       The main character is, indeed, the city Vienna, evoked and used as lovingly (and sinisterly) as it is in The Third Man. Mathews knows and uses the city well, and the book is an astute commentary on the odd city and its decadent-cosmopolitan citizens.
       The book is narrated by Oskar Gewinnler, known to all by his unlikely nickname, Sharkey. A journalist of sorts (he has a column in which he comments about the world at large, and does little "hard" news) he gets drawn into a story much more complicated than what he usually deals with. On a trip he met a Leo Detmers and spent a few hours drinking with him, an episode he had largely forgotten until he hears from Leo's wife, Petra. Leo apparently got himself killed, and Petra says that Leo said she should call Sharkey if she was ever in trouble.
       Pregnant and nearing her due date, with the police and insurance company calling Leo's death suspicious (and Petra under that umbrella of suspicion), Petra is concerned. And well she should be: with Sharkey's help she quickly figures out that Leo had his fingers in a lot of peculiar business. Others are also taking an obvious (but unwanted) interest in her and her child.
       The plot thickens when Sharkey makes some astonishing discoveries about Leo and Petra's DNA, leading to the genetic story at the heart of the novel. There is genetic manipulation going on, and Mathews conceives a fairly realistic scenario (complete with technical explanation) in which to involve his characters. Big business (too rich for our blood -- Mathews gives the company in question an unlikely market cap of 420 billion dollars), sinister doings.
       Add to the mix the political intrigue of resurgent Neo-Naziism (and the history of eugenics in this part of the world), as well as a more peaceful far-right, in a country at the frontier between East and West, and there's enough material to mold quite a complex thriller. Too much perhaps, and Mathews does lose the loose threads on occasion as he tries to make the book more than a mere sci-fi thriller. The effort is laudable, even if it does not always meet with success.
       The twists and turns are pretty neat, though there is perhaps one person too many who does not turn out to be who they seem. Certainly the overall idea is a good one, and Mathews presents the complex scientific foundations well. The book addresses real issues of the near-future, and it does so without painting them too simply black and white.
       Mathews writes well, holding his thriller to higher literary standards (this is not at the Crichton level -- Mathews' language is a notch or two above it). He does get carried away with some of his descriptions, and there are a few sections where he tried too hard to wax eloquently (though he stops short of embarrassment on each occasion). But generally the risks are worth it. The characters are also not ideally drawn out -- unlike the city they rarely truly come alive. A bit too ambitious (in all respects) it is, nevertheless, a solid thriller and a good read.
       Certainly recommended for anyone interested in the possibilities and consequences of genetic engineering -- and anyone interested in a decent, scientifically based thriller.

       Note: Unfortunately our usual gripe applies again -- where are the editors ? Mathews uses a lot of German in the book -- people, places, phrases, words -- and most of it he gets right. But there are still too many mistakes. To list only the most annoying: it seems unlikely that by the year 2026 the Viennese airport (and the town it is located in) would have dropped the "w" from its name (Schwechat). Poor Stefan Zweig appears once as Zweig and once as Schweig. The Erste (First) Bank becomes the Ernste (Serious) Bank. And hotdog carts as "mobile Worstelstande" ? And even an editor or copy editor with no German should have wondered whether "eidelweiss" shouldn't perhaps be "edelweiss".
       Kudos to Mathews for getting so much of Vienna right -- but couldn't they have paid some Viennese expat a few dollars to go over the galleys and avoid these ridiculous mistakes ?

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Vienna Blood: Reviews: Other books under review that might be of interest:

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About the Author:

       British author Adrian Mathews was born in 1957. He attended Cambridge and currently teaches at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Paris.

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© 1999-2010 the complete review

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