Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Fata Morgana 1996 cover

Fata Morgana (1977, 1996)

a fantasy mystery novel

Marlowe & Company - 1996
cover design by Eric Baker Design Associates
209 pages (left)

Borzoi book - Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
1977 - first edition
cover art by Joe Servello
209 pages (right)

Fata Morgana 1977 cover

Ingram editorial review from
       A blend of fantasy tale and hard-boiled detective story set in Paris in 1861 features a French police detective who sets out to investigate a conjurer whose fortune-telling machine is sweeping Paris.

From the inside cover of the first edition hardback:
       The time and place are Paris, 1861 - the extravagant capital of Louis Napoleon and his Empress, Eugénie; the gaudy, blatant public arena of Great Whores and fabulous charlatans; the treacherous private labyrinth of Police Inspector Paul Picard and the human prey he stalks.
       Picard is a hunter of the purist instincts, with an appetite for the ladies, a taste for lemon tarts, and a policeman's nose for hard realities.  As the book opens he is on his way to the Opéra, for music and murder: among the guest is as elegant a killer as ever sliced his way through Parisian high society, and on his arm is the young woman he means to decapitate tonight.  A strange encounter with them precipitates Picard into a new and (apparently) trivial assignment - a case that is fated to disrupt and then transform, irrevocably, his life.
       At first it seams routine: a man - Ric Lazare - has recently arrived in Paris and in a short time has captured the jaded attention and the favors of the entire city.  His aura of opulence, his bewitching wife, Renée, and, above all, his unearthly fortune-telling machine have won him entrée to the salons (and the bank vaults) of the most dazzling leaders of society, including, it is whispered, the Emperor himself.  But who - and what - is Lazare?  Is he a crook?  A master of illusions?  A real magician?  Or - more terrible - a reincarnation from an Older World?
       To find the answer, Picard must follow the thread of the man's past.  His quest takes him from Paris to Vienna, Nuremberg, Budapest, and on to the dark, menacing valleys and steppes of eastern Hungary, uncovering a trail of deceit and violent death: a fabled toy maker driven to destroy both himself and a lifetime's priceless creations. . .a man ruthlessly killed over a dice game. . .a beautiful woman purchased at auction, then stolen away. . .the sudden death of a priest.
       Beset by intimations of his own mortality, by a sense of inexplicable entrapment in a malign world of mechanical and deadly playthings, by a slowly suffocating conviction that he is undertaking a journey he has made before, Picard, caught up in the quickening pace, returns to Paris - and to a terrifying confrontation with his quarry and his own destiny.

Read for group discussion on August 27, 2003

How we each rated this book
Dan 8 Amy - stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri - Barb -
Aaron 8 Cynthia -
Jackie 8 Ron 8
Christine 8.5 Mitch -

Aaron's Commentary  William Kotzwinkle - Fata Morgana

William Kotzwinkle is one of the best kept secrets of American literature.  Our group has read two of his novels, this one and The Bear Went Over the Mountain, and both were delightfully offbeat, entirely unlike each other or anything else we have read.

Fata Morgana is a historical detective story with elements of fantasy.  The key to making this unusual combination work is the book's excellent protagonist, Inspector Picard.  Picard is a tough middle-aged man with a childlike affect that makes him very easy to like.  A rationalist who is also very superstitious, a devoted police inspector who likes to socialize with thieves and ruffians, Picard is a bundle of contradictions, yet his personality never seems inconsistent.  He is a Nineteenth Century junk food junkie, whose greatest appetite stimulant is the thrill of the chase.  He is a very efficient detective, but not a superman.  He is conscious of his own shortcomings, indeed sometimes fixated on his inadequacies, but in the end it is his awareness of his limitations that saves him.

Kotzwinkle handles beautifully Picard's obsession with the idea that he may be a mere plaything of greater powers, which comes through in the toys he encounters, his surreal vision of a vast ring, and many other ways.  Picard's obsession is justified; he is indeed under the control of a powerful master . . .William Kotzwinkle.

I can't say too much about this novel's ending without giving it away.  Let us just say that Kotzwinkle attempts something devilishly tricky to pull off, and manages it perfectly.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Our book group has also read the following books by Willam Kotzwinkle:
-- The Bear Went Over the Mountain  in March 1998

Title trivia
"Fata Morgana, also known as Morgan le Fay, was a fairy enchantress skilled in the art of changing shape.  In one traditional story she was King Arthur's sister and learned many of her skills from Merlin the Magician.
A special type of complex mirage, one that sometimes gives the impression of a castle half in the air and half in the sea, is named after Fata Morgana. . . ."

Fata Morgana, Alaska Science Forum
William Kotzwinkle (1943-      ) Is a US writer who has worked in several genres. He has written around thirty books, starting with tales for children, then later for young adults and adults.  Many of his works are fantasy but he has also done several SF movie tie-ins.

1977 World Fantasy Award for novel Doctor Rat

Kotzwinkle is a two-time recipient of the National Magazine Award for Fiction, and a nominee for the National Critics Circle Award.

His books for adults include Hermes 3000 (1972); Fan Man (1974); Doctor Rat (1976) a beast technofantasy; Fata Morgana (1977) a fantasy mystery which starts in Paris in 1860; Herr Nightingale and the Satin Woman (1978) which follows a detective through Europe; Queen of Swords (1984) a modern mainstream novel; Seduction in Berlin (1985); The Midnight Examiner (1989) a funny book about a tabloid; The Game of Thirty (1994) a mystery; The Bear Went Over the Mountain (1996); The Exile (1997) a literary dark fantasy novel of identity exchange and World War II; and The Amphora Project (2005).

Kotzwinkle's story collections include Trouble in Bugland (1983) containing "Inspector Mantis" juvenile mystery/ fantasy tales; Jewel of the Moon (1985) containing 15 stories; Hearts of Wood and Other Timeless Tales (1985) which has 5 fantasy/fairytale stories; The Hot Jazz Trio (1989) with three literary fantasy stories; and Tales from the Empty Notebook (1996) with 4 fantasy stories about a magic notebook.

Some movie tie-ins are E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Superman III (1983), and E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet (1985).

Some of Kotzwinkle's recent books for children are
The World Is Big and I'm So Small (1986); The Million-Dollar Bear (1995); The Return of Crazy Horse (2001); Walter The Farting Dog (2001); Walter the Farting Dog: Trouble at the Yard Sale (2004); Rough Weather Ahead for Walter the Farting Dog (2005); Walter the Farting Dog goes on a Cruise (2006); and Walter The Farting Dog: Banned From the Beach (2007).

Our book club's page for The Bear Went Over the Mountain by Kotzwinkle
William Kotzwinkle - Wikipedia

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