I blame Rose City Reader and specifically her European Reading Challenge for making me read more historical fiction. Had it not been for her inspiring me to read books about or set in different European countries I might never have discovered the novels of Alan Furst, David Liss and Vilmos Kondor. Now, thanks to Rose City Reader I’ve discovered yet another author of enjoyable historical fiction. His name is Frank Tallis.
While searching my public library’s database for more books applicable to the European Reading Challenge I came across Tallis’ Death and the Maiden, part of his Max Liebermann series. Like the others in the series, it’s set during the fin de siècle in the Vienna of Sigmund Freud and Gustav Mahler when the city was the capital of a declining but still robust Austro-Hungarian Empire. With its sumptuous restaurants, charming coffee shops and a world-class opera, Vienna was the toast of Europe. But beneath this civilized veneer lurked the darker forces of revolutionary socialism, ethnic separatism and xenophobia. Tasked with running the city and keeping those centrifugal forces in check (while at the same time benefiting from some of them) was Vienna’s populist and anti-Semitic mayor Karl Lueger whose authority was outranked only by the Emperor.
When the Vienna Opera’s celebrated diva Ida Rosenkranz is found dead in her apartment, presumably the victim of a laudanum overdose, the authorities guess it’s just another love-sick young woman who has committed suicide. But to the novel’s two protagonists Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt and Dr. Max Liebermann Ida’s death looks like anything but an open and shut case. But if it wasn’t suicide then what was it? And if the beautiful diva was murdered, who did it? Was it one of Ida’s powerful admirers?
Just like with The Fifth Servant, this historical novel was a pleasant surprise to me. Tallis writes well and as a result the narrative flows nicely. I’m glad the author incorporated into the story real historical figures like Freud, Mahler, Lueger and even Emperor Franz Joseph I. I’m also glad Tallis employed two equal protagonists, much like Patrick O’Brien did with his Aubrey–Maturin series of maritime novels. The duo of Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt, a family man and Dr. Max Liebermann, a Jewish bachelor and protégé of Freud compliment each other well. I can easily see myself reading more novels in this series.