In turn-of-the-century Vienna, a police inspector and a progressive psychiatrist team up again to track a brilliant, homicidal anarchist.
Six years after a mysterious man with a pointed beard surreptitiously murders the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898 Geneva, the Machiavellian Peter Nikolayevich Razumovsky devises an intricate but unspecified plan of destruction in Vienna. Could he have been the assassin in the prologue? Elsewhere, firebrand activists Eduard Autenberg and Axl Diamant are part of a cabal led by a shadowy figure known as Mephistopheles that plots anarchic acts of its own. DI Oskar Rheinhardt (Death and the Maiden, 2012, etc.) is first called in to investigate an unusual murder at a factory in nearby Favoriten, where the victim has been shot and disfigured with acid. Rheinhardt shares this and other oddities of the crime with his friend Dr. Max Liebermann, a psychiatrist who’s assisted him on many cases and spent many evenings with him as Rheinhardt sings classical pieces while Liebermann accompanies him on the piano. Meanwhile, Liebermann’s deepening bond with emancipated Amelia Lydgate complicates his relationship with his parents and shakes his heretofore firm views on marriage. Distraught office clerk Lutz Globocnik confesses to the crime and identifies the victim but never seems entirely convincing. When he’s proven wrong, Rheinhardt’s called onto the carpet by his superiors. But Diamant’s brutal murder makes Liebermann’s insight invaluable in untangling the complex criminal web.
Tallis’ seventh period mystery is his most intricate and ambitious yet. A lengthy historical note is eye-opening and offers multiple avenues for further reading.