by Alex Brightsmith3 out of 5
Dance with the Devil if you must, but be sure you call the tune.
Alex Brightsmith’s debut novel is an intriguing introduction to the girl currently calling herself Kathryn Blake.
Kate is a flamboyant traceuse, a nerveless pickpocket, an unrivalled cat-burglar . . . Kate is whatever she needs to be; what better place to meet her than Vienna, that city of a thousand faces? If she herself is disappointed with the city, it is because she has half expected, beyond all reasonable probability, to walk into her mother’s baroque fantasy, but she can reconcile herself to that. So it is not her mother’s city, well she is not her mother’s daughter, and she is not in Vienna for the dancing.
Kate is wrong: Vienna is always about dancing, if not her mother’s bright waltzes by candlelight, then her father’s intricate cold war quadrilles in the dark.
The cold war is over, but the dance goes on.
Kate has her mission: to maintain her character as a stylish young woman by day; and to be a stealthy thief by night. She doesn't care what she is being sent to steal, she only enjoys flying through the shadows.
I picked up a paperback copy of Viennese Waltz, and got to meet the author at the UK Indie Lit Fest back in July, which was pretty awesome.
Kate has a lot of characters that she plays, to suits the needs of the moment: a high-maintenance, shallow lady, a flirt, or the quiet girl in the background. None of them come close to the truth, of the Scottish girl that ran away from boarding school and survived the Parisian slums; the girl that trained herself to be a master thief, and ultimately decided where she wanted to work.
I really liked Kate, she's independent and completely confident in her skills. She works hard to stay at the top of her game, and still feels a thrill at the challenge. She's smart and always on point, analysing the rest of the world, whilst never dropping character.
She knows her value in her team, is willing to play their game and follow the rules, but knows she can always depend on her ability to get out of trouble.
Throughout the book, you get a taste of the life that Kate once had, and the people that she has met along the way. You get the sense that she never stops looking for danger, or the next con, which is an exciting but ultimately lonely life.
The story itself is told in a very fluid and playful way. I thought that Viennese Waltz was the perfect name for it, as Brightsmith's style of writing is almost musical. It especially suits the scenes of free-running across the skyline of Vienna, dancing and flying through the shadows.
I also felt it matched the playful one-upmanship between Kate and Pavel.
As long as you sit back and enjoy it, it's really quite fun.
My problem was, it was very hard to follow anything solid in the narrative. Only Kate and her story are fixed, the rest of the names and faces swirl along in the eddies of the story.
Apart from Pavel and Marraine, I wasn't sure who was who. Kate has a cousin, and a handler? I couldn't work out which was which, probably because they were all referred to as "he" and "him", which made the text flow very nicely, but I got lost over which male was being focused on (the cousin, the colleague, the mark, the bartender, the spy, the foreign competition?).
Overall I found the story to be very nice, but the plot to be somewhat lacking. No, seriously, I was very impressed that for over 300 pages I was going along for the ride and enjoying Vienna with no real plot. At least, not one that you would expect from this genre.
I have no idea who Kate works for; or who Pavel works for. I have no idea what they were actually stealing, and why it was important to their bosses (which kinda fits with Kate, she has no interest in what it is, she just wants to prove that she is the best to steal it). I have no idea why Pavel is a mark, and I can't work out for the life of me why it was so important that they went to the dance. I didn't get why Kate had to go to Marraine (although I did like this character and her involvement).
The other thing that annoyed me was Kate's sometimes-Scottish-accent. She's Scottish - which I didn't realise for the first quarter of the book, until she suddenly went into Scottishness, then dropped it again.
I get that she's gotten very good at hiding the real her, and plays with accents and languages, I just wish there was some rhyme and reason to it. Perhaps when she is more emotional, or angry? Or when she's alone and can be herself? Or with people she trusts?
This is hovering between 3 and 4 stars for me.