The Mozart Code
By Rachel McMillan
Publication Date: January 18, 2022
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Page Length: 336 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
No matter how you might try to hide in a war to escape your past, it is always close at hand.
Lady Sophia Huntington Villiers is no stranger to intrigue, as her work with Alan Turing’s Bombe Machines at Bletchley Park during the war attests. Now, as part of Simon Barre’s covert team in post-war Vienna, she uses her inimitable charm and code name Starling to infiltrate the world of relics: uncovering vital information that could tilt the stakes of the mounting Cold War. When several influential men charge her with finding the death mask of Mozart, Sophie wonders if there is more than the composer’s legacy at stake and finds herself drawn to potential answers in Prague.
Simon Barrington, the illegitimate heir of one of Sussex’s oldest estates, used the previous war to hide his insecurities about his past. Now, he uses his high breeding to gain access to all four allied quarters of the ruined city in an attempt to slow the fall of the Iron Curtain. He has been in love with Sophie Villiers since the moment he met her, and a marriage of convenience to save Simon’s estate has always kept her close. Until now, when Sophie’s mysterious client in Prague forces him to wonder if her allegiance to him—and their cause—is in question. Torn between his loyalty to his cause and his heart, Simon seeks answers about Sophie only to learn that everything he thought he knew about his involvement in both wars is based on a lie.
“Murky espionage and burgeoning passion twine beautifully together in The Mozart Code’s superbly evocative prose—an enchanting read!”
Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code
“Vienna is the new Paris in The Mozart Code, a World War II spy novel with deft, chess-like plotting, and plenty of old-fashioned romance.”
Susan Elia MacNeal, New York Times bestselling author of the Maggie Hope novels and Mother Daughter Traitor Spy
Life in post-war Vienna was a perfect marriage of light and dark. For one, Vienna could not help but embody beauty even if said beauty was shrouded in the shadow of a recent occupation ( the Anschluss, as Hitler’s overtaking of the city was called). I often refer to the ambience of the Baroque city as tasting like too much whipped cream. In 1947, when the main action of The Mozart Code takes place: my hero and heroine, Simon Barrington and Sophie Villiers—are met with a city on the brink of something new. There’s promise, yes, but the shadowed past still nips on its heels.
In a time where cigarettes on the Schwatrzmarkt ( Black Market) held greater currency than the worthless reichsmarks the previous occupants left behind, the world I tried to create in The Mozart Code is still one of a delicate opulence albeit cloaked with the leftovers of War.
Ironically, the Imperial Jewel of the Habsburg Empire( as Vienna was so long known) had survived the worst of the bombing until the latter days of WWII and it is in that space that the opening chapters of The Mozart Code are set. Blackouts, Soviet quarters refusing the aid that the Red Cross tried to send was distributed, a terrible petrol and grain shortage and droughts that were nearly historic: Austria was bearing the brunt of a long haul toward any semblance of life before WWII.
Finally battered, Vienna’s Innere Stadt bore the scars that would stretch long into the post-war years. For one, St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Der Steffl, as the Austrians call it) lost its definitive Pummerin bell and was struck mere day before the bells of peace tolled
Thereafter—and despite its own democratic election--- Vienna was quartered by four allied occupants: Americans, British, Soviet and French. This new occupation would umbrella the city for the next decade. Die Vie rim Jeep referred to the symbolic automobile with four flags flying: emblemizing the quartered Allied occupation of the beloved city.
Yet even in the midst of tragedy there were slices of light: including the exhumation and reparation of timeless artifacts appropriated by Hitler and, in this case, his personal curator Bruno Grimschitz. Often these treasures (especially those pillaged by Hitler and ripped from Jewish homes) slowly found their way back.
In The Mozart Code, Sophie Villiers assumes the code name Starling and helps in the repatriation of artifacts scattered throughout the torn Baroque city. The restitution of artifacts and art is a major motif in my story, heightened by both Sophie and Simon’s passion for seeing as much of the beauty of their world restored to the time before Hitler marched in.
To help recreate the world of The Mozart Code, I returned to Vienna and Prague (cities I had explored on previous vacations) with the express purpose of weaving Sophie and Simon’s world With notebook and iPhone camera at ready, I tried to snapshot a world: to peel back the modern curtain and adjust my eyes to the many, many layers of story inherent in their architectural past. I spent hours and days crossing bridges and creaking my neck as I peered up at the rafters and parapets in hopes of finding some way to transpose them on page.
I hope readers will find the cities in The Mozart Code a bit of a symphony and an opportunity to travel from the comfort of their home. I hope they are able to peel back the curtain of their everyday to slip into a world of music and glorious architecture. All while, hopefully learning a little bit more about the title’s eponymous composer who has equal influence on both.
One city will fall behind the Iron Curtain and one will not: I used my imagination to interweave Mozart’s legacy into this tenuous mix and I hope readers come away hoping to learn a little bit more about Vienna and Prague: two places close to me and often overlooked, I find, in the plethora of WWII era fiction currently available.
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