Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Death and the Maiden by Frank Tallis

First Sentence:  The lord marshal and the lord chamberlain, Prince Rudolf Liechtenstein, were observing Emperor Franz Joseph from the staircase.
    
1903 Vienna is a city of great learning, enlightenment, technological advancements, beauty, art and culture.  It is also a city whose subtext of politics, anti-Semitism and peril grows with each day.  Diva Ida Rosenkranz of the Vienna Opera is dead.  Although her doctor proclaims it suicide due to an overdose of laudanum, DI Rheinhardt differs and proclaims it a murder.  The investigation is complicated by politics. Gustav Mahler is the Director of the Vienna Opera but someone has been sending critical letters to the paper, trying to get him removed.  Can Rheinhardt discover the identity of the letter writer?  Liebermann becomes so taken with the life and works of composer David Freimark, he convinces Rheinhardt to have Freimark exhumed.  What will they find?
   
This is a time of an enlightened Vienna where women could study medicine and attend lectures on equality.  It is the time of Freud and Mahler; where psychiatry and music play a key role.  There is a fascinating listing of technological achievements, and information on pathology, showing advancement in detection methods, as is the profiling by the detective while still at the crime scene and the use of crime scene photos. However, this was also a time when things were changing…”Perhaps bad things could still happen in this beautiful, cultured city.” and anti-Semitism is on the rise.
   
Being new to the series, I had a hard time figuring out who were the protagonists.  It took a long time to realize the relationship between Rheinhardt and Liebermann.  They weren’t really well introduced to the readers, nor was much backstory provided and their personalities seemed quite flat.  However, as the story progressed, I became quite taken with them, both individually and as friends.  Three quarters into the book, I was completely enchanted by them and wanting to know, and read, more of them.
   
There is a very good intermingling of actual historical characters-- Emperor Franz Joseph, Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, and others--into the plot enhances the story’s veracity and strengthens the sense of time and place.  There are wonderful scenes of Liebermann and Freud “…Freud found sex in the most unlikely places.” and his night at the opera with Arianne Amsel; a woman he is courting, as well as scenes of Rheinhardt meeting Emperor Franz Joseph and the witch.     
   
The author’s descriptions are incredibly lush, both placing us within the scene and, at times, striking our emotions.  While music is a central theme of the story, He also uses music to create images.  There are passages that make you stop and consider…”the age of one hundred. Who was ever ready to die? There would always be one more book to read, one more person to see, one more hour or fleeting yet indispensable minute to spend.”  One of my favorite passages, however, is after Rheinhardt reads a bedtime story to his daughter …”What are fairy tales?… Fairy tales were educational. Set in distant lands and among peoples comfortably removed from everyday life, fairy tales introduced children to the idea of badness existing in the world. They helped prepare children for the harsh reality of human iniquity.” 
   
The plot started out just a bit of a slog, with a feeling of being uncertain as to where it was going or why it was interesting.  That feeling disappeared as the story progressed, to the point where it is hard to stop reading.  As the story proceeds, the plot becomes more complex, even introducing a second and third mystery.  The trail of the original murder becomes more complicated and the stakes higher.  The end was completely realistic and very well done.  There is even an excellent portent—something I usually abhor—about the future which left me eagerly anticipating the next book.
   
“Death and the Maiden” was a very good read.  Not only do I want to read future books in the series, but I want to go back and start from the beginning. 

DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (Hist/Pol Proc-DI Oskar Rheinhardt/Dr. Max
Liebermann-Vienna-1903/Gaslight) – VG
Tallis, Frank – 6th in series
Random House, 2012

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