This first novel by Jodi Shields is an intense literary thriller set in 1910 Vienna. When 18-year-old Dora is strangled one night in the Volksgarten, we are introduced to "The Inspector," whose penchant toward rational deductions fails him in this case. The only clue that leads anywhere is an undigested fig in Dora's stomach. Exotic, unattainable as a fresh fruit in August in Vienna, the fig becomes the focal point of a sexual, suppressed eroticism in this detailed novel of science and mysticism.
Exquisitely and perfunctorily read by Patricia Kilgarriff, THE FIG EATER provides a wealth of knowledge about figs and 1910 Viennese social customs and mores. Interestingly, the inspector's wife and her friend undertake an investigation that leads us on a somewhat arduous journey through Vienna, discovering that there is certainly more to the life of Dora than her parents are aware. Sexually active, often sickly, Dora was a mystery to many.
Eventually finding the fig tree from which Dora's last meal had been plucked, the women narrow their search for the murderer. Dora's father had been committing adultery for years. Did he have reason to strangle his daughter? Dora was friendly with her father's mistress. Was she the killer? Was the husband of Dora's father's mistress the culprit? After a very thorough investigation, using gypsy folklore and other nontraditional methods, the women discover the murderer.
Again, this is a very complex and substantial piece of work. I am of the belief that it might be better heard than read to best appreciate the detail. As always, enjoy.
Reviewed by Marge Fletcher on January 21, 2011