Vienna Secrets: A Max Liebermann Mystery

A murder mystery with a healthy dose of Freudian psychoanalysis

Book Review

Vienna Secrets: A Max Liebermann Mystery

by Frank Tallis
Mortalis/Random House Trade Paperbacks, 400 pp., $15

If you like your murder mysteries with a healthy dose of Freudian psychoanalysis, here's a sweet read for you. Set in 1903 Vienna, this is the fourth volume of the Liebermann Papers, Tallis' acclaimed mystery series that features the crime-fighting team of police Inspector Oskar Reinhardt and psychoanalyst Dr. Max Liebermann. Like its trio of predecessors, this yarn is rich in historical detail and presence of place.

When two bodies are found brutally decapitated on church property and the victims are discovered to be members of a covert anti-Semitic group, Liebermann turns his attention to the insular Hasidic community and its fiery leader, Rebbe Barash. The plot thickens when a third headless body turns out to be that of a Jewish procurer with a history of abusing young women. An array of compelling subtexts and subplots are deftly interwoven into the fabric of the story with stylish flair. The mounting anti-Semitism of the time fuels a deathbed controversy that entangles Liebermann at the hospital where he works. The blowback of this simmering vitriol brings into focus the legend of the golem, a manmade superhuman protector of Jews in medieval Prague, and its relation to Jewish mysticism and the kabbalah. Liebermann is a student of Sigmund Freud, and his theories of dream analysis are an intriguing part of the deliberations. Freud even makes a cameo appearance, as does the revered author/playwright Arthur Schnitzler. Their presence and the discussion of their work enhances the depiction of Vienna as a cauldron of intellectual vibrancy at a time when the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire was nearing the end of its dominance. The city's crowded, smoky coffeehouses and restaurants are used as effective set-pieces with Inspector Reinhardt's penchant for pastries and sweets evoking some delectable descriptions. Tallis' knowledge of the period's contemporary music, his grasp of arcane piano techniques, and a judicious use of physics makes for a tale so chock-full of tantalizing elements that the actual solving of the crimes almost takes a backseat to the heady milieu swirling around it.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Jay Trachtenberg
Ronnie Earle, Gangbuster
Ronnie Earle, Gangbuster
Jesse Sublett revisits Austin’s criminal past in Last Gangster in Austin

June 10, 2022

Inside the Seventies Weed Business in <i>Wild Times in Old Austin</i>
Inside the Seventies Weed Business in Wild Times in Old Austin
Dazed, confused, and profitable

June 10, 2022


Frank Tallis, thrillers, Oskar Reinhardt, Max Liebermann, Sigmund Freud

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle