Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vienna Secrets, by Frank Tallis

First, my thanks to Random House, who sent me an ARC of this book.

This is book #4 (and the most recent) of the series entitled The Liebermann Papers, set in turn-of-the-century Vienna.  Although this one wasn't my favorite of the series -- that honor goes to Fatal Lies -- it was still a good read.

A series of grisly and seemingly impossible murders is keeping the police busy in Vienna.  People are being decapitated in a most gruesome fashion -- their heads seemed to have been literally ripped off.  But there are no suspects, no clues, and the method of death confounds the authorities.  Oskar Rheinhardt calls once again on Max Liebermann, the young psychiatrist who is a serious follower of Sigmund Freud, to help wrap their collective heads around these crimes and try to fathom who could be responsible.  But crime is not the only thing Liebermann has on his mind.

Once again, we are transported back to that time period through Frank Tallis' writing...the coffeehouses, architecture, music and culture of Vienna are vividly portrayed.  He also briefly introduces his readers to the beauty of Prague's culture of the time in a whirlwind tour to that city, and to a bit of Jewish mysticism.   But there's also a darker side rising up alongside all of  the gaiety, and that is the true focus of this novel (and also explains the UK title of this book, Darkness Rising -- which, imho, is the ultimate perfect title). At this time in Vienna, anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head, beginning to grow in force (indeed, throughout the empire itself), and Max himself has become a target. There is a definite foreshadowing of what's to come for these citizens later, which gives this book (and indeed, the overall series) a bit of a darker tone. It's tough to just call this just a mystery novel because it's so much more.

Bluntly speaking, I was put off at first by the anti-Semitic musings being interwoven with the mystery part of it all, but eventually I came to see that the two components were necessary to each other. After I figured it out, what happened in the story made much more sense. I have only two criticisms of this book: I just wish the author would have decreased the amount of minutiae to sift through as far as period details,  and that he would have stayed closer to the two interwoven storylines without interjecting what Oskar was going to eat at the coffeehouse -- it's very distracting sometimes. As a mystery, the crimes were baffling enough and the solution was very different to anything from this author so far in the series.

I think that this book will do well for people who've already read the first three books, or for people who really enjoy historical fiction.  If you want a non-historical view of the forces leading up to the extreme anti-Semitism that follows this time period, this would also be a good place to start.  Overall, I liked it and would recommend it, and I would recommend that you begin with the first in the series Mortal Mischief, because the story is actually ongoing and you don't want to miss a thing.

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