Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vienna Twilight

Vienna Twilight
Frank Tallis
Random House,  $15.00
ISBN 9780812981001

The Frank Tallis Vienna/Dr. Max Lieberman psychological crime novel series are wonderful and magical - and almost fairy tale like in their sensuous pleasures and depraved and disturbing horrors. In a way they are more about the backstory than the mystery. I think it would not be out of place to suggest Tallis is using the psychological nature of the crimes as a metaphor for the rise of something dark and evil in the subconscious of early twentieth century Vienna. The crimes, often brutal murders of the innocent, offend against all sensibilities. These horrors are juxtaposed against the rise of psychoanalysis and the triumph of the intellect.

At the same time, almost the same mouthful, are the luscious delights of the cafes and concert halls where the Viennese gather to enjoy authentic sounding chocolate cream or apricot jam filled confections and rich and exotic coffee drinks along with transporting music of Strauss, Mozart, Bach, and Viennese musicians of all types. There was so much music in the air that laws were passed to outlaw music making after 11 pm.

Cafe Central in Vienna

Another view of Cafe Central
 I must confess part of my own family was part of the life of early twentieth century Jewish Vienna. And when I was young my great aunts told me stories about the charm and glamour of their native city. We were related to nobility and went to balls and parties, they told me. Yet despite the beauty and wonder, they and their sister, my great grandmother Anna, left before World War I, to come to the U.S. And I'm profoundly grateful that they did! Or I might not be here at all. Our relatives who left Vienna in the 30s barely escaped with their lives. This series helps me to understand the ambiguity of the pre-WWI era for Jews and for others filling the city like Russians, Slavs, and gypsies.But Vienna is incredibly beautiful as you can see from some of these pictures and I hope to visit one day.

The latest, Vienna Twilight, does not disappoint. The murders are indeed gruesome and the motive psychologically obscure and dark. Clothes and couture, the lives of poor laundresses, musicians, and whores, and aspects of the dark underpinnings of Viennese society are explored. It seems well-researched and authentic and there is great deal of rich detail. One pleasure is how the odd relationship between Max and the English medical student Amelia Lydgate continues to evolve and it is both amusing and touching. But Tallis is not rushing into anything; it seems clear he has more ground to cover with these characters and this series.

Natural History Museum in Vienna

I am looking forward to the next one.

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