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Tallis, Frank - 'Death and the Maiden'
Hardback: 384 pages (Jan. 2011) Publisher: Century ISBN: 1846053579

DEATH AND THE MAIDEN is the sixth outing in the series for Viennese psychiatrist Dr. Liebermann and his friend Detective Inspector Rheinhardt, and is set in 1903. A young opera singer, Ida Rosenkrantz, star of the Vienna Opera has been found dead in her villa, seemingly due to a laudanum overdose. But when the autopsy reveals a broken rib, her death is treated as murder, and Liebermann assists Rheinhardt in his investigations at the Opera House and beyond. Rosenkrantz had only one significant enemy in her professional life, rival diva Ariane Amsel who was dislodged from her top star status by Rosenkrantz's arrival at the Vienna Opera. But Rosenkrantz's personal life seems to provide more likely motives for the murder, as she had a series of relationships with older, unsuitable powerful men, and became sufficiently unhappy to consultant a psychiatrist, Saminksy. Digging deeper into Rosenkrantz's romantic history proves risky as Liebemann and Rheinhardt make some powerful enemies, in particular Lueger, the anti-semitic demagogue mayor.

Meanwhile Liebermann's passion for music lead to two interesting sub-plots. The famous composer Gustav Mahler, director of the Vienna opera at that time, has perfectionist tendencies which have made him very unpopular with the orchestra, leading to criticism in the press and poison pen letters. Mahler persuades Liebermann to help him root out the seditious presence in the orchestra. In the second sub-plot, Liebermann becomes interested in the (fictional) obscure composers, Freimark and Brosius, after a chance conversation with an elderly opera devotee. Freimark was Brosius's student, reported to have died in a mountain accident. However after listening to Brosius' work, and learning that Brosius' wife had an affair with Freimark, Liebermann becomes suspicious that the death was no accident.

Frank Tallis manages to provide a wealth of convincing historical detail about Vienna, music and infancy of psychoanalysis in a way that provides period charm, and doesn't slow the story down. Tallis nicely highlights the growing tensions in turn of the century Viennese society in both the personal and political spheres: the changing views of female sexuality by early feminists and in psychoanalysis, and the insidious tendency towards anti-semitism at some of the highest levels of Viennese society, and the social unrest this leads to. Liebermann is caught up in these changes: his English love interest, Amelia, a medical student, attends feminist talks and has started wearing freeform garments without corsets, and on a more serious note, he is starting to feel sufficiently uncomfortable as a Jewish man in Vienna that he considers a move to London. This instalment of the series maintains the high standard of the previous novels and was a highly enjoyable read.

Read another review of DEATH AND THE MAIDEN.

Laura Root, England
February 2011

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 6/01/2012 15:33