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The Master of the Day of Judgment by Leo…

The Master of the Day of Judgment (original 1921; edition 2007)

by Leo Perutz, Hedwig Singer (Translator)

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260765,320 (3.9)29
Title:The Master of the Day of Judgment
Authors:Leo Perutz
Other authors:Hedwig Singer (Translator)
Info:Kessinger Publishing, LLC (2007), Hardcover, 200 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Master of the Day of Judgment by Leo Perutz (1921)

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    The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (Pencils)
    Pencils: Both books have unreliable narrators and mysterious events.

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Showing 4 of 4
This is a remarkable little book that's not easily forgotten.
A famous actor, after recounting for his guests a tale of two inexplicable suicides, goes to his garden pavilion and shoots himself. One of those guests is Baron von Yosch, who soon is accused of imparting information that led to the act. The Baron, who narrates the story, feels overwhelmed by guilt, and when his word of honour is seemingly proved a sham he himself considers suicide. This is Vienna in 1909: an officer and a gentleman knew the honourable way out. Much of the book tells of his and his friends' attempt to solve the mystery of a string of suicides that have common factors. Eventually they do so.

The book is well-written and well-constructed. So many scenes and details are striking and linger in the memory: the connoisseur money-lender, the inane conversation about music, the villain too fat to stir from his home, the Baron's hallucination and his enigmatic saviour.

It's also a provocative book, in a way a study of the psychology of guilt: of why and when we acknowledge guilt--truly or falsely--or deny it or simply confabulate. For me it also raised questions about credulity and story-telling; despite Perutz's indirect but clear warnings, I found myself readily believing in the fantastic elements of the story and reluctant to credit what was (almost certainly) the underlying truth of it. A very good book indeed.
  bluepiano | Dec 30, 2016 |
What a wonderful book – thrilling and addictive, this is a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes with both a perfectly neat ending and layers of ambiguity. Perutz nicely captures the voice of the stuffy, selfish, honorable – but unreliable – narrator. The book is set in comfortable middle class Vienna in 1908 but soon the atmosphere is filled with a nameless, supernatural horror.

Eugene Bischoff, a notable actor, has committed suicide – or has he? Outwardly it seems like a random death – he shot himself while preparing to perform a scene from Shakespeare for his guests. However, some little unpleasantness suggests something else is going on. The narrator, Baron von Yosch, unhappily pines after Bischoff’s wife, Dina, and has recently learned that Bischoff is broke after the failure of a bank, though his friends and family are keeping the fact from him. Yosch is irritated by a new guest that Dina seems to favor, Solgrub, and disturbed by a story that Bischoff told about the motiveless suicides of two brothers. Felix, Dina’s brother, thinks Yosch is responsible for the death but Solgrub and another friend, Dr. Gorsky, think another murderer is out there.

Solgrub is the Sherlock Holmes in the story, an intelligent, active man with some lingering horrific memories of war and an alcohol problem, who contrasts with Yosch. Perplexed Yosch, doubtful Felix and logical Gorsky at times are his Watsons. The mystery is finally solved after Solgrub’s various hypotheses conjure up all sorts of images of creepy murderers and supernatural evil, though there are several casualties along the way. As in other Perutzs, the ending is given – obliquely – in the prologue (we find out who died, for example) but the meaning does not become clear until the end of the book. There are several layers of unknowing in the book – no one, at first, knows what has happened and Yosch remains confused while Solgrub collects evidence and draws conclusions. In addition, Yosch is an unreliable narrator. We find out that he has kept things from the reader and added in reasons for his actions. He pretends that some of his meaning-filled comments were innocent mistakes and occasionally fades out at important moments. The epilogue adds another layer of distance. The solutions that the group discovers may be what happened or the whole book could be Yosch’s elaborate justification. Another possibility is also raised towards the end.

A number of logical solutions are possible but various symbols point to the deaths as fate rather than suicide or murder. Besides all Yosch’s unreliability, his narrative is littered with memento mori. The gardener is Death personified, who Yosch called for Bischoff, Brahm’s piano trio is its own day of judgment with Satan triumphing, Gotterdammerung is playing on that fateful day, and Yosch’s thoughts of his own suicide hang over the interval. The cut on Yosch’s head that he can’t seem to recall getting foreshadows his later run-ins with death and Gorsky’s death, which occurs after the events of the book, also parallels the suicides. The ambiguity was one of the things that made this book complex and memorable. ( )
7 vote DieFledermaus | Mar 21, 2012 |
The Master of the Day of Judgment is an intruiging mystery about a succession of apparent suicides that take place in early 20th century Vienna. First an artist, then his brother. The highly regarded actor Eugen Bischoff who knew those 2 previous unfortunates is himself found dead in his own home, a victim it seemed of his own hand. It was 2 days before the opening of his biggest and most awaited play -- there was absolutely no reason for him to end his life just then. Close friends who were in the vicinity at that time, took it upon themselves to explore the mystery of this series of unexplained suicides. Within two days, they painstakingly try to establish what took place during the actor's last hour and follow clues that, only gradually they realise, placed them at greater and greater peril. Two more suicides in the same number of days bring to light the secret that connected these events.

This is the first work I’ve read of Perutz and I’m impressed by how the real (or what we are led to believe to be real) and the imaginary fluidly merge in his narration. We wonder in the end if we were reading an account by Baron von Yosch (a friend of the actor) of an actual hunt for the "monster" which had triggered the suicides, or if the existence of the "monster" was an ingenious stratagem he took to deflect attention from the real cause of the suicide (the Baron himself). A psychological thriller, completely absorbing, and the eerie ambiguity in the end which could be an unsatisfactory close from a lesser writer, in this case only served to enhance the fantastical elements of the story. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote deebee1 | Jan 20, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Leo Perutzprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mosbacher, EricTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Singer, HedwigTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wittels, Dr. FritzIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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(Harvill blurb) When the idolised actor Eugen Bischoff is found shot dead in a garden pavilion in Vienna one September evening of 1909, suspicion fastens at once on Baron von Yosch, a well-to-do army officer who has been the lover of the dead man's wife Dina. While Dina's brother prepares to expose the baron to public humiliation and drive him to suicide, two of Bischoff's friends are willing to accept von Yosch's word that he is innocent and that the actor took his own life. The three of them piece together the scanty clues and in the course of a couple of days painstakingly establish what occurred during the actor's last hours, and how this relates to some recent unexplained suicides in his circle.

As in his other novels, so here too Leo Perutz skilfully orchestrates an atmosphere of deepening mystery suffused with terror as the shadowy nightmare figures in the actor's last days are gradually, at no little peril to the enquirers, brought to light.
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In pre-World War I Vienna, an actor is shot during a musical performance and suspicion falls on Baron von Yosch, whose mistress left him for the actor. The baron sets out to clear his name himself. By the author of The Swedish Cavalier.

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