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by Frank Tallis
Random House, May 2007
480 pages
ISBN: 0812977637

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In turn-of-the-century Vienna, a practitioner of the new science of psychiatry, Max Liebermann, helps his friend police Detective Oskar Rheinhardt to solve a murder. Beautiful medium Charlotte Lowenstein has been found dead in her room. She has been shot in the chest and her body arranged as if resting. There's a note that could be thought of as a suicide message that talks about a being taking her to hell, but the police can't call it a suicide because no gun is found. But the room had been locked from the inside, so there's also no explanation of how a murderer could have escaped.

Because of the letter's mention of hell, that Charlotte was a professional medium who claimed to speak to the dead, that there was a bullet wound yet no bullet and no exit wound, no gun could be found and that the room was locked from the inside when the police found the body, many people think that something evil or supernatural is responsible for the death. So in order to solve the case Dr Liebermann and Detective Rheinhardt must fight against ideas of the paranormal and must use old-fashioned sleuthing and new-fangled ideas about observational and analytical clues to solve the crime.

The time period of the story takes place during the study of psychological theories of Sigmund Freud, who was Max Liebermann's mentor. We learn about some patients of Dr Liebermann and the way he treated them as opposed to other doctors of the time who adhered to their own theories about diseases even though those theories might not be helpful to the well-being of their patients.

We also see the prejudices against many minorities, most particularly against women, with the doctors using a diagnosis of female hysteria as an answer to any complaints that women might have about men. Most of the time I felt so pressed by the terrible things done to women in the name of science that I couldn't breath. The willingness of people to accept hatred and prejudice against women and against religions also made this book difficult to sit through.

The reader also gets to experience the loveliness of the location in turn-of-the-century Vienna, with its café life and amazing foods and desserts along with the hints of the horrors of the coming century and the rabid prejudices that will lead into World War II. A DEATH IN VIENNA is a beautifully written book with amazing descriptions that also shows an interesting connection between mysteries and Freud's theories, but is not an easy book to read and think about.

Reviewed by A. L. Katz, May 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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