Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vienna Blood, by Frank Tallis

Vienna Blood is book two in the series known collectively as The Liebermann Papers, which are set in Vienna just after the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth.  The main character is Max Liebermann, who is a doctor and devout follower of Sigmund Freud. He is joined by Detective Oskar Rheinhardt, who tries to incorporate all of the newest crime-solving methods, including psychological analysis, when working a case.  In this volume, the two have their hands full: someone is killing random members of the public, leaving only the slimmest of clues behind.  Liebermann and Rheinhardt must figure out exactly what drives the killer, and if he or she is following a particular pattern that isn't readily apparent.

The crime investigation is interwoven with a glimpse into the minds of those who were advocates of German nationalism around this time -- and you can see how later some of the Anti-Semitic and pro-Aryan philosophies will become twisted into what evolved into National Socialism.  Tallis looks at this phenomenon in terms of art, music, philosophy and literature, and introduces the readers to one Guido von List, who spent most of his career studying ancient Germanic runes & mythologies, and using them as the basis of his prophecy, which stated that someday, a  "Strong One from Above" would purify the German people, bring Germany back to its ancient magnificence and would lead Germany to conquer the world. Scary stuff, especially because we all know what comes later -- the characters don't really yet understand what's in store for them. On the flip side, the story also brings out the loveliness of Viennese society -- the whirl of coffeehouses, pastries, music, theater, art, literature, and the amazing work being done by people like Freud to help cure people of their mental ills. There's also an ongoing side story, that of Max's crisis of conscience over his engagement to the lovely Clara.

Here's the thing: some readers may feel like this book is a bit too long, especially if they're rather impatient to get to the crime itself.  Tallis does tend to fill his pages with a lot of period details, from what everyone's eating at the coffehouses to what happens during a duel. But if you're interested in that sort of thing, then you'll like it. Overall, it's a fine sequel to his first excellent novel, Mortal Mischief (the US title).  I would recommend it to readers of historical fiction; it's not a cozy novel by any stretch, but a full-length, serious mystery.

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