Sunday, August 28, 2016
Photo: The book's paperback cover.
The sequel to Tallis's slightly better A Death in Vienna, this one is still a success. The Washington Post called it "the first great thriller of 2008." I'm not on top of my 2008 thrillers, but this book is very good.
The mystery is less mysterious than the first in the series, and it shouldn't be hard for the reader to guess the killer. Because there are lots of red herrings, both in the plot and in other characters, the book won't be a disappointment if you correctly guessed the killer. The interesting historical fact this time is that the swastika--forever to be associated with evil and the Nazis--was actually a much older symbol that, ironically, stood for peace and unity. Not anymore, and not ever again.
Which brings up one of the interesting things about Tallis and these books: You learn something. Like Dan Brown's thrillers, you get entertained and you get educated at the same time. I used to sometimes stop reading Brown's books and write something down that I wanted to Google. With Tallis, I've written things down that I wanted to hear on YouTube. Some have been hits, and some have been misses (such as Stockhausen, Studie 1, from a horror novel of his I'm reading now), but I've always been curious and interested. Tallis is more interested in music than in images, like Brown is, and Tallis writes historical thrillers, so you learn about the past--in this case, Vienna in 1902. Brown doesn't do that, as he brings things from the past into his thrillers in the present. But it's all good. As long as you're reading and learning, who cares?
You learn that the main character--and, one assumes, more popular Jews in Vienna, like Freud--were daily victims of bias. For example, both men (at different times) have been the recipient of snide, vulgar remarks about being Jewish, from supposedly learned and sophisticated men. Freud ignored it and Liebermann shrugged it off, but both explained it was a daily occurrence. (On a side note, Freud was apparently a teller of funny, but often crude and stereotypical, Jewish jokes. One of them, about how you could tell Jesus was Jewish, I'd heard before.) There may be a bit too much about the Freemasons of Vienna here, but that's okay, too, and you may think, as I did, that you're learning something new, as they don't seem much like the Freemasons of America I've read about.
Poor Clara is treated a little curtly here, but if you've read the first one, you've seen it coming. She immediately (and a little too patly) recovers, but that was okay with me, because she was likable, and not as dim as Liebermann thought (which he often recognized), and you don't want her to be sad. It wouldn't have worked out with me, either, but I would also have been glad that she was happy. Whatever.
So a very quick read, and worthy of your time if you like historical thrillers. I'm taking a break from Tallis's historical thrillers for now; I'm in the middle of a horror novel, written by him as F.R. Tallis. I'll let you know.
P.S.--For the waltz by Strauss that gives the book its title, click this link to YouTube.