VIENNA SECRETS by Frank Tallis

Book Quote:

“Inspector? Have you ever encountered anything like this before? What I mean to say is . . . Brother Stanislav’s head.” He winced as he recalled the decapitation and blood. “It looked as if his head had been ripped from his body.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (FEB 22, 2010)

Vienna, 1903, is the pervasive ambiance of Frank Tallis’ book, Vienna Secrets. The atmosphere is spellbinding in its depiction of the people, architecture, food, mores, culture, and religious discord of the time. It is also a literary thriller in its finest form.

Max Liebermann, psychoanalyst and protégé of Sigmund Freud, is the book’s protagonist. He is a multi-faceted man of integrity and many talents. He is inquisitive, philosophical, a talented physician, a lover of music and a fine pianist. He and his close friend, Inspector Oskar Reinhardt, play classical music and discuss psychology together when they are not solving crimes.

Vienna in 1903 is a city rife with anti-Semitism, something not new to the Viennese. In 1424, Vienna attempted to purge “the terrible crimes of the Hebrew dogs. As the world was once purged by the flood, so this time it was by fire.” This legacy of anti-Semitism remains in 1903 Vienna and has become exacerbated by the influx of Jews from Eastern Europe and Russia due to the pogroms and the mass murders of Jews there.

Thus, when two heinous murders occur, with both victims having anti-Semitic leanings, Max and Oskar put their heads together to try and solve the crimes. The murders are by decapitation and there is a lot of mud left around the murder sites. There is an ancient Kaballic myth about a Golem, a creature created out of mud that is said to have been created to avenge Jews. Could the mud be associated with a Golem?

The novel takes us into the lives of progressive Jews and also groups of Hassidic Jews, groups very different from one another. Progressive Jews believe in science, psychoanalysis, medicine and culture. Hassids live in the past, are fundamentalists, and deny much of modernity. The difference between these two groups is portrayed vividly.

The reader is also privy to the secret societies of anti-Semites and the ugliness of anti-Semitism in early 19th century Vienna. As Max and Oskar struggle to solve the crimes, the politics of the times hinder their work in many ways as some of the Viennese people believe that the murders were committed by Jews and want to take vengeance by keeping Jews from holding any professional positions or positions of influence. When a third murder is committed, and this time the victim is a Jew, things become more unclear and leave Max and Oscar totally puzzled and scratching their heads.

The book is filled with wonderful descriptions of Viennese foods, especially desserts. The reader’s mouth is likely to water over the strudels, tortes, éclairs, soufflés, whipped creams, and puddings.

The mystery is also a very literary thriller that informs the reader about the cultural aspects of Vienna. We are present at concerts, at the theater, and in psychoanalytic sessions. We are privy to the mores of courtship and rejection. We are given great insight into family life and parent-child relationships. We get to see some of the machinations of politics, medicine, government and religion.

This is a reader’s book, much in the way John Dunning’s and Stephen Greenleaf’s mysteries are. Frank Tallis loves words and uses them beautifully. This is a book to fall in love with. For certain, I’ll be reading all the earlier books in this series.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 69 readers
PUBLISHER: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Original edition (February 23, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


The Liebermann Papers:

Writing as F. R. Tallis


February 22, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Facing History, Sleuths Series, World Lit

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