A meticulous serial killer with medical expertise confounds turn-of-the-century Vienna's most perceptive pair of sleuths.
While psychoanalyst Max Liebermann delves into the psyche of Erstweiler, a disturbed patient convinced that he's haunted by his doppelgänger, his friend and sometime colleague Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt examines the corpse of a young woman murdered in a singular fashion: A hatpin has been inserted at the back of the neck at the precise soft spot where it can penetrate the brain. Even after Liebermann joins Rheinhardt in his investigation, his sessions with Erstweiler are woven into the story, along with a third narrative—that of the killer, who coolly and progressively describes his obsessions and activities. The victim is Adele Zeiler, a sometime artist's model who occasionally worked as a prostitute. Rheinhardt traces the unique murder weapon to the fashion house where it was purchased, gets a solid description of the killer and even a name—Griesser—but he must track down many leads and question many witnesses before he crosses the path of the murderer, who in the meantime racks up more victims. As in earlier cases, the theories of Freud, who makes a cameo appearance, are key to the killer's pathology. Liebermann continues his near-wooing of emancipated Amelia Lydgate, whom he gets a job assisting the medical examiner.
Liebermann's fifth (Vienna Secrets, 2010, etc.) once more folds a nifty mystery into a fascinating portrait of a unique time. And there's a nice surprise twist.