Death and the Maiden: A Max Liebermann Mystery

Written by Frank Tallis
Review by Mary F. Burns

Sixth in a series starring psychoanalyst Max Liebermann, a “consulting” psychiatrist to the Prague police department, Death and the Maiden does not disappoint, whether you’re new to Max or have been long acquainted with him and his detective friend Oskar Rheinhardt. If you’ve never read one of Tallis’s mysteries, I urge you to start with the first one (A Death in Vienna) and read them all, although I started with the sixth and it was completely comprehensible. Then I immediately went to the library and got all the previous books.

In Death and the Maiden, as in all the novels, music and opera — with real-life conductor/composer Gustav Mahler at the helm of the Vienna Opera House — play a major role. The plot circles around a dead diva and widens to include high-placed politicos and even royals, creating treacherous sinkholes that threaten to engulf both Max and Oskar.

Tallis clearly loves Vienna, and he spares no mouth-watering detail when describing the pastries and whipped-cream-coffees that Oskar and Max frequently devour while pondering the clues and suspects. The city of Vienna, some ten years before the Great War begins, is also described so colorfully and clearly that you truly feel you are there, even including the growing threat of anti-Semitism, for which we shudder on Max’s behalf. In addition to Mahler, Sigmund Freud is a recurring character, the “great man” of his field whom Max visits and admires — and he’s always telling groan-worthy Jewish jokes, very funny.

Well-crafted mysteries and murder stories, serious and very likeable characters (including a very interesting love interest for Max) and complete immersion in early 20th-century Vienna combine to make this series a really satisfying read — and it’s been optioned for television, which should be fun, too.