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Book Cover Image: Mozart's Last Aria by Matt ReesTitle: Mozart’s Last Aria

Author: Matt Rees

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):

“The news arrives in a letter to his sister, Nannerl, in December 1791. But the message carries more than word of Nannerl’s brother’s demise. Two months earlier, Mozart confided to his wife that his life was rapidly drawing to a close . . . and that he knew he had been poisoned.

In Vienna to pay her final respects, Nannerl soon finds herself ensnared in a web of suspicion and intrigue—as the actions of jealous lovers, sinister creditors, rival composers, and Mozart’s Masonic brothers suggest that dark secrets hastened the genius to his grave. As Nannerl digs deeper into the mystery surrounding her brother’s passing, Mozart’s black fate threatens to overtake her as well.”

Thoughts: With nine years of participating in an award-winning wind ensemble under my belt, I have a huge affinity for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his works. I’ve visited Salzburg several times, toured the house in which he was born, and have watched the movie Amadeus more times than I probably should admit. When offered the chance to review a novel about Mozart’s mysterious demise, there was no hesitation on my part; I felt I was meant to read this book. I mention this because my knowledge of and feelings for the maestro definitely influenced my thoughts on the book in a way that most readers probably will not experience. Consider this a disclaimer of sorts.

Mozart’s Last Aria in an intriguing but bland conspiracy theory about Mozart’s true cause of death. Told  after Mozart’s death from his sister’s point of view, the reader is led on a goose chase around Vienna as Nannerl attempts to uncover the truth behind certain riddles and mysterious comments her brother made during his last few months on Earth. Unfortunately, its focus on Mozart’s Masonic membership made this more reminiscent of current conspiracy theory novels a la Dan Brown. Therein lies the problem.

Mozart’s Last Aria hopes to capitalize on Mozart’s undeniable genius and the fact that his untimely death prevented even more of his amazing work from being composed and shared with the world. In fact, this exact sentiment is mentioned on almost every page, as one character after another laments on the world’s loss after his death. The reader is reminded of this loss incessantly to the point where it becomes slightly nauseating and increasingly numbing. While this loss is meant to increase the reader’s sense of urgency to uncover the truth, its constant repetition undermines the suspense.

One cannot read Mozart’s Last Aria without noting distinct comparisons to other modern popular suspense novels. It has the Freemasons and “dangerous”, life-changing secrets that could change Austria forever, while the reader is left to understand that Mozart was at the heart of this dangerous secret. Unfortunately, the only clue to Mozart’s supposedly passionate support of this secret is his music. Mr. Rees attempts to use Mozart’s music alone, and not his behavior or own words, to support his theory. It is a weak connection at best, especially because Mozart was a prolific writer, as was his entire family. If he truly supported such sentiments, one would expect more proof in the form of actions or his written words. Music, which is highly subjective, as the only clue is not enough to provide conclusive evidence of Mozart’s involvement in these secrets, making this entire storyline very weak.

Mozart’s Last Aria is one that definitely must be read with full access to all of his works on hand, as Nannerl goes into great depth of each piece mentioned. Without a deep understanding of music, a reader will easily get bogged down into these very technical passages. Added to that, the flimsy proof behind the big secret and the fact that no one but Nannerl is able to uncover the mystery leaves a reader feeling deeply incredulous over the entire premise. While it does offer a relatively brief alternative to the more depressing Mozart biographies, there is much that is lacking that prevents a reader from being able to become truly immersed in the story. An inability to do this makes this one suspense novel that lacks in suspense.

Acknowledgements: Thank you TLC Book Tours and Harper Perennial for my review copy!

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