Grisly murders shock an elegant city.
In turn-of-the-century Vienna, Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt calls his friend Dr. Max Liebermann to examine a horrific murder scene. Piarist monk Brother Stanislav has been decapitated, his head literally torn from his body. The first wave of questioning depicts the victim as a saintly sort, with no enemies, but a fellow monk later reveals that Stanislav wrote several articles for the anti-Semitic Vaterland. Indeed, anti-Semitism is flourishing in Vienna. To compete with golden-boy rival Burke Faust and curry the mayor’s favor, Councillor Julius Schmidt proposes bigoted initiatives. By contrast, a Jewish study group led by charismatic Rebbe Barash sees the hand of God in the murder. Liebermann inadvertently steps into the middle of this simmering conflict when he prevents a priest from giving the last rites to a dissolute young baron who’s finally at peace and oblivious to his imminent death. Liebermann and Rheinhardt share their theories during informal musical evenings, with Liebermann at the keyboard and Rheinhardt on vocals. In the nights that follow, Liebermann, who’s recently broken off his engagement, has increasingly graphic dreams about his feminist friend Amelia Lydgate. When Faust is found decapitated like Stanislav, the case goes from an aberration to a serial killing. The only clue is the thick dark mud found at both murder scenes.
In Liebermann’s fourth case (Fatal Lies, 2009, etc.), Tallis again paints an elaborate portrait of Vienna. The precision and economy of his intelligent prose keep his story in balance and tension high.