... not very well written in comparison with the three previous Liebermann/Reinhardt crime novels. Tallis's choppy chapters and gimlet false clues seem more formulaic. I had the culprit spotted by page 230 out of 374, especially since the most obvious suspects were 'exempt' for obvious reasons. The diminished role of the detective Oskar Reinhardt, in favor of focusing on his music-mate psychologist Max Liebermann, painfully reduces the 'human sympathy' quotient of the novel. The exotic Viennese pastries have gone stale from overexposure on the sales counter. And alas, Miss Lydgate really does seem frigid, hardly a vivaciously brainy women this time around, scarcely more than a label on a stoppered bottle of libido.
Nevertheless, I read "Vienna Secrets" with embarrassing relish. Once again, author Frank Tallis hooked me on esoterica. "Lurianic Kabbalah was never the exclusive property of a small closed group," declares the charitable character Priel at the head of chapter 19. I suspect that most readers will horse-laugh at that statement; the mystical/metaphysical theology of Isaac Luria is so totally obscure to Gentiles, and even to the majority of secular Jews, that much of Tallis's treatment of it will be blankly unintelligible to them. It happens, however, that I'm "up" on the subject as a result of recently reading Rebecca Goldstein's profound scholarly book, "Betraying Spinoza." Besides, Max Liebermann is an anxiety-laden Jewish psychologist! My wife is an anxiety-laden Jewish psychologist. Through her, some of my best friends are anxiety-laden Jewish psychologists, and the rest are mostly anxiety-ridden Jewish musicians. Reading "Vienna Secrets" is like a family reunion, a "shabbas" supper with elements of mayhem.
I guess I should mention the plot of the novel, irrelevant as it was to my enjoyment: Two gruesome murders occur in quick succession in 1903 Vienna; the victims of both are rabid anti-Semites. They are both decapitated, not in the usual savory way with a blade but rather by having their heads literally twisted off. Suspicion points to members of a Hasidic Jewish sect, but then a third decapitation confuses matters, since the victim is a Jew. Meanwhile, Herr Doktor Liebermann is in danger of losing his hospital position for a rash act of humane integrity....
... and then there's the specter of The Golem, the artificial man made of clay in Central European legendry, and the sly allusions to Jungian psychology before its time. The appearance of the Golem in this book will have the effect of making me re-read the novel "The Golem" by Gustav Meyrinck, a writer of roughly Kafka's era. The Jungian claptrap is interposed in the novel just to stimulate poor Liebermann's anxieties. But there's an undertow of subtle irony in this awkward novel, which elevates it in my esteem. A "golem" was just what the Jews of Central Europe could have used, over the next forty years of history. The brilliant rationalist Liebermann was haplessly, painfully deficit at prognostication.
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 … more
It is Vienna, in 1903. Franz Josef rules his Austro-Hungarian empire. Mayor Karl Lueger took office in 1897 and will hold it until 1910. For Jews there are worse places to be on this earth, notably Russian Czarist Ukraine beyond Franz Josef's north eastern border. Cossacks, pogroms, blood libels and more send suddenly destitute Jewish refugees with no German language skills fleeing for Vienna. Mayor Lueger was rhetorically anti-Semitic but did nothing major against … more
When an anti-Semitic monk is beheaded outside his own church one cold night in 1903 Vienna, Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt calls in his young psychoanalyst friend, Dr. Max Liebermann, for some insight into the mind of the killer. Using his natural powers of observation as well as his Freudian education, Liebermann posits a number of ideas before going off to his hospital job where he will soon be in deep trouble for barring a priest from giving the last rites to a delusional dying … more
The fifth Max Liebermann mystery (following Fatal Lies, 2009) finds the psychiatrist once again wrapped up in a police investigation. This time headless bodies start appearing in front of statues all across Vienna. Tallis continues to evoke the sights, sounds, food, and culture of turn-of the-century Vienna; but this time anti-Semitism is a dark whisper in the background, and Liebermann, a non-observant Jew, finds himself worried for his career. The historical details of police work and forensic investigation again are a strong point, and with this book’s inclusion of a trip to Prague, readers are introduced to another fascinating city. Liebermann’s trip is inspired by a desire to understand more about his past and culture, and the resulting backstory will please series fans interested in knowing more about this appealing protagonist. A solid entry in an excellent historical mystery series. --Jessica Moyer