2. Don’t Go Down to the (Vienna) Woods…

John Leake

If mention of Vienna makes you think of Mozart, cream cakes and Gemütlichkeit, John Leake’s new book will make you think again. John Leake is a young Texan writer who found himself living in Vienna. The city captivated his imagination (his favourite film is The Third Man) and he soon began searching around for a Viennese subject for his first book. That was when he stumbled upon the grisly case of Jack Unterweger…

John’s debut is a tale of murder and mayhem so bizarre that in a novel it would be dismissed as too far-fetched to be believable. In fact, it is all true. The book tells the story of Jack Unterweger, son of an Austrian prostitute and an anonymous GI. Jack grew up to be a small-time hoodlum, pimp, and thief, and was sentenced to life imprisonment for a brutal murder in 1974. So far, so predictable. But after Jack began to writing children’s stories and had them broadcast on Austrian National Radio, the country’s intelligentsia sat up and took notice: here was living proof that even violent criminals could be rehabilitated by the system.

John Leake The Vienna Woods KillerWhen Jack was released in 1990 amid a blaze of publicity, he seemed to have the world – or at least all Vienna – at his feet. This dapper, diminutive man with the little-boy-lost expression was now a celebrated playwright, novelist, and man about town. To say much more would be to give away too many of the twists and turns of John’s astonishing book. Let’s just say that you would have to hunt very hard today – little more than a decade after Jack’s death – to find a copy of any of his works. It’s almost as though the man who graced the pages of literary journals and fashionable magazines had disappeared into the mists of those Viennese woods…

“As told in page-turning, savagely intimate style in this debut by translator and editor Leake, Unterweger’s vicious killing spree comes alive in horrifying detail… [a] cracking good true-crime tale that, while demonstrating respect to the victims, conjures a character in Unterweger that readers will not soon forget.”

Publishers Weekly

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