Misdirection is the name of the game in this intricate thriller (published in England as Mortal Mischief), the work of a practicing London psychologist.
Its sleuth is himself a psychotherapist: Max Liebermann, disciple and acquaintance of controversial new eminence Sigmund Freud (who shows up occasionally to dispense wisdom and bad Jewish jokes), and close friend of sturdy, if unimaginative police inspector Oskar Rheinhardt—who plays the workmanlike Watson to Liebermann’s quick-witted Holmes. Two mysteries attract Max’s attention: the fatal shooting of beautiful spiritualist Charlotte Löwenstein, whose body is discovered in a locked room (where no bullet is found), and the hysterical paralysis that possesses Amelia Lydgate, a handsome young woman who languishes under the regimen of electrotherapy demanded by Max’s dictatorial superior, but improves markedly when Max seeks the emotional cause of her affliction. Tallis charts the course of the Löwenstein investigation with considerable ingenuity and in generous detail, providing a rich surfeit of information about the several prime suspects, all clients who had regularly attended the deceased’s celebrated séances. These include handsome young stage magician (and cad) Otto Braun, the late Charlotte’s lover and probably criminal accomplice; wealthy banker Heinrich Hölderlin and his breathless wife Juno; romantically hopeful, hopelessly ingenuous seamstress Natalie Heck; suspiciously neurotic locksmith Karl Uberhorst; no-account Hungarian playboy Count Zoltán Záborszky; politically ambitious businessman Hans Brückmuller—oh, and nearly every other denizen of early-20th-century Viennese café society. A second murder and a séance arranged for investigative purposes by the diligent Oskar follow, and a Hitchcockian climax high atop downtown Vienna makes excellent use of revivified Amelia’s talents and confirms Max’s Freud-inspired theories. A graceful final paragraph completes the elegant circle that this long, complex tale has so deftly described.
Immensely entertaining, and very clever indeed.