Historical mystery, travelogue, social and political commentary ... what a smorgasbord!
Mar 11, 2010
Dateline Vienna 1902, location - the sprawling majestic Schönnbrunn Palace's Tiergarten Zoo. Detective Oskar Reinhardt is called to the scene of a grisly slaying - the cruel killing of a 30 foot long anaconda that has been cut into three sections with a saber. But even such an unprecedented bizarre case must fade into the background when Reinhardt is faced with the brutal maniacal slaying of a brothel's madam and two prostitutes. Reinhardt and his close friend, Dr Max Liebermann, a respected practitioner of Freudian psychology, are convinced that the murders, with a strong resemblance to the recent Whitechapel Jack the Ripper executions, are the work of a demented serial killer who will soon be looking for a fourth victim. "Vienna Blood" is a superbly crafted historical mystery built around a compellingly recreated Vienna. Rheinhardt is portrayed as an early believer in the infant science of forensics and profiling. But, even in turn of the century Vienna, like his modern counterparts, he is faced with internal political pressures. He is being harried to stick to solid, established techniques of dogged police work and to produce a quick arrest.
"Vienna Blood" is a magnificent travelogue of what is arguably one of the most beautiful and exciting cities in Europe and the classical music capital of the world - the Opera House under the leadership of Gustav Mahler, the cafés, the scrumptious calorie laden Mozart and Sacher tortes, the Ringstrasse, the birth of the electric tram system, the magnificent art gallery in the Belvedere; the entertaining natural history collection in the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the extraordinary outdoors beauty of the Vienna Woods on the western fringe of the city.
"Vienna Blood" is also a frightening political commentary. Dealing with the disturbing prevalence of secret societies in Vienna in the early twentieth century, Tallis makes a convincing argument that faults Vienna's "Law on Associations" with driving subversive political groups underground and making them even more dangerous. Tallis shows how the sinister Guido von List - a successful journalist and writer, much loved at the time by hardcore Teutonic Germans obsessed with superiority of the Aryan race and preserving the purity of German bloodlines - was likely the seed that sprouted into the National Socialist movement and their anti-Semitic policies.
Finally, "Vienna Blood" is a wonderful story of the cultural and social milieu of the city. Reinhardt, who is engaged to the vapid but sexually enticing Clara Weiss, realizes that he simply cannot in good conscience marry her because he does not love her. He struggles with the difficulty and the social embarrassment of breaking off the engagement as he realizes he is growing fond of Amelia Lydgate who is studying medicine at the Anatomical Institute. In a most interesting side plot, Amelia is forced to deal with the chauvinistic (nay, misogynistic) attitudes towards women, the clearly inferior sex, who would presume to test their hands at the male professions of art, science and medicine.
When I was in Vienna on vacation last year, I visited a local English language bookstore - Shakespeare & Co - and asked the proprietor to recommend a novel that was not a tour guide but that would represent the city of Vienna well and serve as a memorable souvenir. Five stars for Tallis and "Vienna Blood" and five stars to the lady that made such a superb recommendation. Thank you very much!
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