I love the Max Liebermann series. It’s the perfect mix of mystery, thriller, and psychology lesson, set against the beautiful backdrop of 19th century Vienna. Frank Tallis also achieves something incredible: he, like his protagonist, is a psychologist, but he never gets so wrapped up in the terminology that the reader tunes out. Instead, Mr. Tallis gives a real sense of how this new area of medicine developed, and as Max hashes out theories with his mentor, Dr. Sigmund Freud himself, and with friend and colleague Inspector Reinhardt, we also learn the new ideas, and the findings get richer with every new installment.
Vienna Twilight is the most twisted case yet. Inspector Reinhardt is called to the Volksgarten where a young woman has been found dead and possibly violated. As the woman has no marks on her, the police assume she has died of natural causes, until a visit to the pathologist unearths two surprising truths: whatever sex she had was consensual, and she did not die of natural causes but was murdered with a tiny and stretegically placed hatpin. When the bodies of other women begin to turn up, Reinhardt enlists the help of Dr. Max Liebermann to unearth the identity of the killer.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, Max is treating a man who is sure that he is going to die because he has seen his doppelganger. And Max himself is still trying to understand his feelings for his former patient, the brilliant Amelia Lydgate. The analysis of dreams, the Oedipus complex, and necrophilia and thanatophilia (sexual fulfillment at the moment of death) all come out as Max poses the ultimate question: why are the Viennese obsessed with sex and death?
What was especially fascinating about Vienna Twilight was that the narrative was broken up with bits and pieces of the murderer’s confession. I got a true sense of how the killer evolved and how he came upon his chosen method. It was fascinating and disturbing all at once.
As with any great series, it was also fun to see how the primary characters have grown from the last book. I love Max and Inspector Reinhardt’s relationship; they work hard to understand each other in a professional capacity, but then they have these relaxing musical evenings. It was also great to watch Amelia come further into her own as an apprentice to the medical examiner. The atmosphere of old Vienna continues to shine through beautifully, particularly the scenes at the opera and in the coffeehouse. Because Mr. Tallis was examining the question of why the Viennese are the way they are, I felt that we got a really great sense of the different walks of life in society at that period and the different levels of necessity and depravity.
I eagerly await the sixth book!