Book Review: Tatort Kaffeehaus, by Edith Kneifl

Viennese and international authors reading in 56 venues, packed to the chandeliers with all the usual crime loving suspects

TVR Books | Michael Werbowski | October 2011

Crime at the Kaffeehaus: a Mélange of Books and Authors

The Viennese coffee-house may have literary connections, but it is not usually associated with a Tatort, the site of an illicit deed. However, on a single evening in mid-September more than 45 Vienna coffee houses were indeed the backdrop for crime. The seventh annual Kriminacht made the city a sleuth’s paradise.

Both local and international authors read their tales of misdeeds, felonies and worse, offering their literary fantasy free to the public. At least to the public that could still find a seat. Kriminacht has a huge following, and the coffeehouses were mostly jam-packed with dedicated fans of crime fiction.

There were so many venues to choose from (56 in total), all taking place within two and a half hours, that it was hard to know where to begin. So, I selected two names I knew: Daniel Depp and the Café Landtmann.

The Landtmann is a venerable café next to the Burgtheater, the one where Freud had his Stammtisch and where he filled notebooks full of observations and ideas over the mysteries of human nature. Perhaps the most elegant of cafés in Vienna, the waiters walk quietly on rubber soles and discretely assure themselves that their guests are satisfied. Depp (yes, he’s Johnny Depp’s half-brother) recently made a best-selling debut as a crime writer, and I expected a thrilling reading.

But actually (to my great disappointment), Depp just sat there most of the time while excerpts from his newest book, Babylon Nights, recently translated, were read in German by ORF’s Andreas J. Obrecht. Depp’s noir crime story moves from Hollywood to the Cannes film festival, with a protagonist modeled on a Raymond Chandler-like anti-hero, the L.A. detective David Spandau, who is hired to investigate a murky murder on La Croisette, the high-society strip along the Cannes seaside. While his book has been described as "exhilarating, darkly skewed entertainment", the reading at the Landtmann was irretrievably staid.

To get into the mood of mystery and murder, I had taken along the new anthology Tatort Kaffeehaus. A collection of 13 Viennese crime stories 13 Viennese authors, it’s an eclectic and enticing assortment of foul play among the attentive waiters of Viennese cafés and their unsuspecting patrons sipping their kleiner Brauner. Each tale is set in the favourite café of its author – Vienna being a city where a favourite café is as essential as a toothbrush.

Claudia Rossbacher’s Tod der Turnadot recounts the encounter between an opera singer and a stranger who is a potential killer. The scene is set in the Café Weimar, where, appropriately, Rossbacher was reading on Kriminacht. The Weimar is down the street from the Volksoper, the typical after-the-show stop for a late night snack and a quick last comment on the singers of the evening. The prose of Turnadot is taut, the tension high, and like all great stories, there’s an unexpected twist at the end.

After my disappointment at the Landtmann, I just managed to get over to the Café Museum in time to see and hear the Austrian author Eva Rossmann. The Museum was packed solid: Rossmann is a regular there, and she seems to have a mighty fan club. Rossmann read from her new book Unterm Messer (Under the Knife). It is not set in a café, but in a wellness spa, where the fatal act takes place in a sauna. Her story in Tatort is set in the ORF Kulturhaus Café on Argentinierstraße behind Karlsplatz, a Katzensprung from the Café. I wondered why she hadn’t read her coffee crime story there instead. But my organizational queries didn’t bother me too long: Rossmann is a real pro when reading. She leaves her listeners hanging at just the right moment.

I missed hearing the historian and political scientist turned novelist Andreas Pittler read on Kriminacht. In his Gruppenbild mit Leiche, which appears in the Tatort collection, the Kaffeehaus slaying takes place at the Café Central. This time the chief inspector is called in to solve the stabbing murder of a renowned baron at the Heerengasse meeting place. Among the notorious suspects are Hugo Von Hofmannsthal, Leo Perutz, Leon Trotsky and Adolph Loos. Indeed it is true that they were all patrons of the Central, sipping their coffees during that most illustrious first decade of the last century.

All in all, Tatort Kaffeehaus and the Kriminacht readings have inspired me to read more of these authors. Reading in German is easier when looking up the words is just another set of clues to finding out "who done it". And maybe I’ll even be inspired enough to take a shot at the genre myself. Pun intended...


Tatort Kaffeehaus:

13 Kriminalgeschichten aus Wien

Edith Kneifl (ed.), Falter Verlag, 2011  

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