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Keep an eye on that organ grinder and his monkey!

  • Mar 18, 2010
  • by
 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 the city's Jews, including people like Sigmund Freud and renowned writers such as Stefan Zweig and Arnold Schnitzler.

But all that may be about to change in 1903. Two prominent Christian anti-Semites are beheaded in a particularly nasty way, heads not being severed by a sword or axe, but twisted off by great physical force. Not long afteward, a nasty Jewish pimp who has horribly violated a Jewish prostitute has his head twisted off.

What is afoot?

The murders  are investigated by Police Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt and his non-practicing Jewish friend, young psychiatrist Maxim (Max) Liebermann. In their spare time the pair enjoy social evenings, with Liebermann playing the piano while Rheinhardt sings classical German songs. 

VIENNA SECRETS: A MAX LIEBERMANN MYSTERY is the first book that I have read by English doctor Frank Tallis. It will certainly not be my last!

The book is as tasty as Viennese desserts. It involves a quick visit by Liebermann to Prague. It is also heavy, noir, atmosphere-laden, political, religious, medical, psychiatric, historical, musical, literary, gothic and, undeniably, a murder mystery. Since both my wife and I in different years had been Fulbright students in Vienna and have visited Prague together, the history and atmospherics was most welcome: what grand cities to go down memory lane in!

I have, however, read some readers' comments which show that not all readers looking for a straightforward detective yarn are willing to put up with all the apparently peripheral atmospherics, religion, meals eaten, cigars smoked and name-dropping hob-nobbing among the elite of the doomed Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Let me limit my comments to the detective story core of VIENNA SECRETS. The clues to who performed the dreadful decapitations and why are unambiguously presented and are anything but peripheral to unraveling the mystery. Perhaps at first you can't imagine why they are introduced: e. g.,

-- 15th century Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi,

-- a Jewish legend of the golem, a monstrous creation hard to control but designed to protect Jews,

-- a possibly insane Hasidic Jewish rabbi in Vienna who thinks a new golem had done the dastardly decapitations,

-- a professor of philosophy who doles out in the name of his immensely wealthy brother-in-law  money for good Jewish causes -- including protecting female Jewish refugees from Ukraine --

-- an unobtrusive barrel organist and his monkey, and on and on. 

They are all important clues.

The price a reader pays for seeing the clues as clues is to grasp the history as history, psychiatry as psychiatry, Jewish mysticism on its own terms, etc. Like it or not (I for one did like it a lot), you will learn much about many new things, starting with Brunelleschi's contributions to lifting heavy weights very high with levers and very little physical exertion.  And keep an eye on that organ grinder!

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More Vienna Secrets: A Max Lieberma... reviews
review by . February 11, 2010
   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 …
review by . June 08, 2010
... 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 …
review by . April 26, 2010
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 …
About the reviewer
(Thomas) Patrick Killough ()
Ranked #94
I am a retired American diplomat. Married for 47 years. My wife Mary (PhD in German and Linguistics) and I have two sons, six grandsons and two granddaughters. Our home is Highland Farms Retirement Community … more
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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
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ISBN-10: 0812980999
ISBN-13: 978-0812980998
Author: Frank Tallis
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
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"Darkness over Vienna"
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