Monday, 18 February 2008

Stumbled upon

In a shop that sells cheap, remaindered books (reminding me always of Clive James' superb poem) I found a treasure, and no doubt the start of a minor new obsession. A Viennese treasure, it was, as beguilingly, perfectly formed as a slice of Sachertorte: a slice of the city at the time of Freud.

Just another example of the ubiquitous Eurocrime genre, subcategory: historical, but one extremely, particularly to my liking. Vienna Blood, I quickly learned (for as soon as I think 'Oh, I like this!' I start googling around), is the second crime novel by Frank Tallis, set in Vienna at the very beginning of the 20th century and featuring Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt and his friend, the young Jewish doctor and Freudian psychoanalyst, Max Liebermann.

Intriguingly, Frank Tallis, I learn, is a clinicial psychologist in the British National Health Service, whose previous published works include How to Stop Worrying and Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness! And he's good.

Like many compulsive readers, I adore many - though certainly not all - crime novels. And like many, the attraction for me is not the gory, the creepy or the suspenseful, nearly as much as it's the gift of a structure the genre provides: the familiar, clever investigator/protagonist arriving in the lives of disparate strangers and having a good look around. And here, come to think of it, the Max Liebermann novels are a little different. While the characters of Liebermann and Rheinhardt are lovingly, subtly drawn, the parade of suspects is vivid, but perhaps less subtle, more a parade of interesting types. The third protagonist, explored in well-researched detail, is Vienna in 1902, it's cross-currents of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, decadence and scientific innovation (and, of course, what the latter brought to the art of detection - the first analysis of blood and microscopic examination of dust and fibres),

Vienna in the time of Freud: as I followed Max up the winding stairs to the Professor's apartment, the description was so precise that I saw again the building at 19 Berggasse, the apartment now a museum, although it is some years since I visited. I loved this skilful picture of a place, a mindset, in interesting times. I also loved the writing style, which is elegantly spacious, with a definite, but not too laboured, nod to the period, a seriousness and verbosity that persuasively evoke another age, but never become tedious.

The small pleasures mean as much, often, as the weightier ones, especially when daily routines feel all too weighty. I'll be back for sure as soon as I can lay my hands on Mortal Mischief and the recently published Fatal Lies.

5 comments:

Dale said...

Ooh! Ooh! I'm in!

marja-leena said...

Ooh, me too! Wonderful review, Jean.

rr said...

Oooooh! Yes! Yesss!! Yeeeeeeessss!!!

Might I borrow it?

Have you come across the Lucifer Box books by Mark Gatiss? Pseudo historical, total tosh but highly enjoyable none the less.

Jean said...

rr, I'll bring it on Sunday :-)

rr said...

meeeep!!

:-D