Sunday, October 30, 2016
Photo: the paperback's cover, from it's Goodreads page
Vienna Secrets by Frank Tallis is a very good book, #4 in the series, that was nominated for an Edgar Award in 2011. The mystery involves a few decapitated men, all in one way or another seen as enemies of Vienna Jews--the last one also being Jewish himself. There are the typical cast of characters, all of whom seem guilty in some way, until the real murderer shows himself towards the end. Max Liebermann gets out of that mess, solves the crime, solves a male patient's pseudo-pregnancy, and walks out of a meeting with his job--in that order. Once again, Tallis seems to show that the crime is second-fiddle compared to the more normal things his character has to go through.
But the real purpose of this book, as with the first three and the following two (I don't know why I've read them out of order, but it's not proven to be a problem), is to show the growing anti-Semitic dissension in 1903 Vienna. The subject is integral to the plot, to the characters, to everything. The book ends with the sadly ironic statement: "Today, Jews may be insulted and abused, but they will never be consigned to the flames again." This was supposedly written in Dr. Liebermann's journal in Vienna, 1903. Hitler, who was born in Austria on April 20, 1889, and who spent time in Vienna, was 14. Since he moved to Germany in 1913, he could plausibly have been a part of Liebermann's 1903 Vienna, but Tallis apparently decided--wisely--not to go there. But the irony of that sentence is impossible to miss.
I've harped on this before, in my other Tallis / Liebermann reviews, and Tallis himself has harped on this in every single Liebermann book, but I'll harp on it again: These books were written long before this last year's election cycle, but the warning is not subtle:
Beware of the makeup of your society, and beware who rules that society.
A country's leader is a reflection of that society, not the other way around.
A woman-hater, for example, cannot succeed in a society otherwise void of woman-haters. A xenophobe who fears / hates Mexicans cannot succeed in a society that does not otherwise fear / hate Mexicans. Though such an aspiring leader may lose an election by garnering "only" 30% to 40% of the vote, such a percentage is still alarmingly high and must be seriously addressed by that society. Simply put, that's a lot of fear and hate. Even if that aspiring leader goes away, the fear and hate-mongering that he flamed will not. It'll be there, and it could, and probably would, get worse.
It's happened before. Europe, 1890-1945. Spain and England have had Jewish purges. America has had a Native American purge. Think about it: If the current aspirant could wipe out those he hated, would he? Even his allies would say Yes. (In fact, that may be why they're his allies.)
So watch out. Beware of the makeup of your society, and beware who rules that society.
This book shows that was true in 1903 Vienna, and it shows it's true in 2016 America.
Beware. Keep your eyes open.