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A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis

Publisher:  Grove Press  ISBN:  0-8021-1815-1

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader 

In early twentieth century Vienna, psychotherapist Max Lieberman enjoys helping his musical friend Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt with his investigations.  The murder of the beautiful medium Charlotte Lowenstein is particularly perplexing:  she is discovered shot in the heart (but with no bullet in evidence) in a room locked from the inside.  The circumstances of her death, in combination with her profession, suggest her murder was supernatural.

But Rheinhardt and Lieberman aren't convinced.  Lieberman intuits the secret Charlotte was keeping, and interviewing those who attended her séances provides plenty of suspects.

At the same time, Max is courting the beautiful, but sometimes vapid, Clara Weiss, balking at the electric shock therapy practiced at his hospital, and treating the brilliant but troubled English governess, Amelia Lydgate.

The absorbing, complex, and multi-layered Death in Vienna beautifully evokes the intellectual café setting.  The skillfully drawn characters will earn your admiration—or disdain.  At over 450 pages, the novel seems a bit daunting at first glance, but is a surprisingly quick read.

 

 

The Mercy Room by Gilles Rozier

Publisher: Little, Brown & Co ISBN 0 316 15973-5

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

In an instant's madness, the narrator of this book kidnaps a beautiful Jewish youth from under the noses of the occupying Nazis and hides him in the cellar of his family home in France.

The reader is never quite sure why the timid former school teacher has done this foolhardy , brave thing. Is it as revenge on the Germans, one of whom has turned his sister into a harlot?  Is it because the beautiful boy reminds him of an earlier, unconsummated affair with Hans-Joachim?  Is it a desperate last grasp at a chance to love and be loved, after enduring a sterile marriage?

For over three years, the unnamed narrator hides Herman in the cellar.  He sneaks down there nightly, with food and questions.  The relationship starts out from a shared interest in literature, but becomes a love affair of sorts after a while.  The two men talk about books and language in whispers, careful not to be overheard by the family or by the visiting Nazi officer, whose continued presence in his sister's bed eats away at the narrator as the years pass.

Finally, in one out-of-character explosive moment, the narrator hacks the Nazi to death with a cleaver and drags him down to the cold cell where Herman lives his circumscribed life.  The energy that committed the crime drains quickly away, and the narrator leaves Herman to dig a grave to hide the body. 

The one positive result of the murder is that now the two men have a Nazi uniform.  This is a good thing, because Herman becomes more and more upset at having to share his prison with the buried body, and begins to hallucinate about it.  The narrator understands that the boy must get out or go mad and possibly put them both in mortal peril.  They make plans, but unworldly people are rarely skilled in such endeavors.  The end is shocking but not surprising.

This is not a book I'd recommend to people subject to depression, and it helps if the reader has a good grasp of nineteenth century German literature of the darker sort.  It's good literature but not good entertainment; readers will have to decide for themselves if it's a good book.

 

 

Rhapsody in Blood by John Morgan Wilson

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312341474

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Benjamin Justice, a once famous journalist now disgraced because of some bad judgment, has just finished his memoirs and is in need of a relaxing weekend.  So when his good friend Alexandra invites him up to the small town of Haunted Springs where she intends to write a feature on the film being shot there, he cautiously agrees.  Cautiously, because it seems wherever these two go trouble is usually right behind, with this time surely to be the same.

The film, which recreates the tragic murder of a Hollywood 50's icon whose body was found in the town's one hotel, followed by the lynching of the black man accused but never tried, along with star's daughter's suicide 25 years later, has all the makings of the next big Hollywood noir.  But when murder strikes again, with the culprit sure to be one of the cast and crew- all of whom seem to have some little secret to hide- Benjamin once again finds himself enmeshed in yet another murder investigation that just might get him killed.

Morgan once again fulfills his promise of outstanding originality as delivered in previous outings featuring Justice, simply one of the more complex and fascinating characters around.  A gay man approaching 50, HIV positive, missing an eye, and whose background reads like some caped hero, Justice once again captivates and enthralls.  And when combined with a plot that artfully explores subjects such as prejudice, intolerance, and other relevant issues impacting diverse cultures now, and then, he once again provides an insightful and provocative read that's sure to get you thinking.  Highly recommended, this is one intelligent read that shouldn't be missed.