Ludwig II, the Fairy-tale King of Bavaria, is today remembered for his beautiful castles—popular tourist destinations that inspired the Disney Castle, but whose origins were much more fantastical than anything Disney could dream up. Also known as the Mad King, Ludwig was deposed in 1886 after being declared insane by doctors who had never met him. He promptly died—mysteriously drowned in waist-deep water—his eccentric castles his only legacy.
Master of historical suspense Oliver Pötzsch brings the Mad King back to life in The Ludwig Conspiracy. An encoded diary by one of Ludwig’s confidants falls into the hands of modern-day rare book dealer Steven Lukas, who soon realizes that the diary may bring him more misery than money. Others want the diary as well—and they will kill to get it. Lukas teams up with a beautiful art detective, Sara Lengfeld, to investigate each of Ludwig’s three famous castles for clues to crack the diary’s code as mysterious thugs and Ludwig’s fanatical followers chase them at every step. Just what in the diary could be so explosive?
As someone who's heard about the various conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Ludwig II. of Bavaria, and as someone who's been to Linderhof Castle and stood in awe at the grandeur of it all, I jumped at the chance to read this book when it was offered on Netgalley. It starts out relatively slow (well, after the first big bang), and the reader needs to be somewhat familiar with the historical accounts as well as the many references to German literature. It is also somewhat important to be familiar with the region of Bavaria where Ludwig II built his castles. This area, nestled within the German Alps, is breathtakingly beautiful.
I can tell based on what I know myself of the history that the author did a significant amount of research, which is evident in the description of the castles as well as the historical flashbacks to which the reader is treated as the fictional diary is being translated.
I also quite enjoyed the mystery even though it was clear from somewhere around the middle that the MC is a descendant of the king, (highlight to see spoiler) even though he is not aware of this fact until the very end. Once Maria and her son Leopold were introduced, I knew. What baffled me until almost the very end was the identity of "the King" who's hellbent on obtaining the diary Herr Lukas is deciphering.
The author cleverly used the conspiracy theories to spin his own tale, drawing on rumors that have floated about for decades as well as the many unexplained mysteries surrounding the king's death.
Ludwig II. of Bavaria was declared insane and thus deposed. He was then imprisoned at Berg Castle at the Starnberger See in which he mysteriously drowned after supposedly having killed his physician, the very same one who declared him insane. The water at the scene was waist-deep, and Ludwig was said to be an excellent swimmer.
Towards the end of his life, the king had gained a significant amount of weight, and it's entirely possible that he had a heart attack at the shore of the lake. It's just as possible that he was killed in cold blood to avoid a petition to challenge the insanity diagnosis and thus charge the people involved in his deposition with high treason, an act that carried the death penalty at the time.
Ludwig II. continues to be revered as the fairytale king in Bavaria and beyond, and his castles account for a huge number of visitors each year and thus a tremendous amount of revenue for the Bavarian state. And as the author states in the book, the facts that his death was mysterious and that many things surrounding his life and death are still to this day kept secret only enhance this popularity.
Where this book fails, and why it didn't obtain that final half star to make it a full five, is in the translator's job. This novel was originally written in German, and it seems clear from the many awkward sentences, especially in the beginning, that the translator might have struggled. It can be very difficult to translate a German idiom, a specific saying for a specific region, into something resembling English, and the dialogue as well as the narrative suffered from a lack of either full understanding of the language's idiosyncrasies or experience to do a well-formed translation.
I should have read this book in German. I think it would have gotten that extra half star. As far as thrillers and mysteries go, this one is well worth your time, especially if you have an interest in this aspect of German history.
I received a free ARC from the publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return.
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