Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis

A Death in Vienna is a very absorbing novel that is set in turn of the century Vienna. Charlotte Lowenstein, a very attractive medium, has been shot. But there was no bullet. She is found in a locked room - locked from the inside and there is no evidence of an escape by the murderer. Could it be an illusion or is a supernatural being the perpetrator? Enter Dectective Oskar Rheinhardt who enlists the aid of a cutting edge psychoanalyst, Dr. Max Liebermann to try to solve the murder. There are numerous suspects, many of whom have participated in seances with Charlotte. They include a banker, a locksmith, a count, and a well-to-do couple. Tallis masterfully develops each character and sets them against the back-drop of the beautiful and bustling city of Vienna, almost allowing the city to become a character in herself. The investigation becomes a study of forensic and criminal methods versus psychological. Several additional story lines become interwoven within the main story line, the engagement of Max, the treatment a very disturbed Amelia Lydgate. And then in the midst of all the action, one of the prime suspects is bludgeoned to death and is found in a room locked from the inside. Is it the same killer or a different one?

The crimes are solved in a very clever manner as a result of some ingenious twists and turns of the plot. Tallis weaves the historical into the novel as we witness a symphony conducted by Mahler and an exhibit opening of Klimt's paintings at the Secession. And, of course, no novel set in 1902 Vienna would be complete without an appearance by Sigmund Freud whose influence of thought at the time is quite evident. We also get a glimpse of a Freud who is trying to push the sales of a book of jokes, no less.

A Death in Vienna transports the reader to the titular city in every way. We can taste a sachertorte at Demel's, hear the works of Beethoven and Wagner as conducted by Mahler, smell the coffee at the Imperial and other caf├ęs, be awestruck at the beauty of the Hoffburg Palace, and lose our breath as we ride high above the city on the Riesenrad. It was a very good trip indeed. A great combination of thriller, historical and psychological fiction.

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