Death and the Maiden

Written by Frank Tallis
Review by Nancy Henshaw

1903. After the scandal and tragedy of Mayerling, Vienna is herself again. The scents and flavours are as delectable as ever: coffee, pastries, perfume and expensive cigars. Anti-Semitism casts only the smallest shadow, an occasional irritation that the Jewish population must bear. New ideas abound. Sigmund Freud has already startled the intellectual world, and everywhere there is music. At the court opera house where temperaments clash, the masterful genius of Gustav Mahler rules singers and orchestra.

The sudden death of the opera’s most dazzlingly diva, Ida Rosenkrantz, must surely be an accident, or at worst an impulsive suicide. Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt, niggled by anomalies at the scene of death, is able to establish a cruel and bizarre murder. But by whom, and why? He is helped in his enquiries by Doctor Max Liebermann, a man in the forefront of the new science of psychoanalysis. Acute and persistent, the detective and the doctor follow clues which lead them dangerously close to people with power: on one side the imperial court surrounding the aged Emperor, on the other an impending mayoral election in which “Handsome Karl” Lueger campaigns for an unprecedented fourth term in office and the possibility of radical change.

With plenty of entertaining, intelligent dialogue and two subplots – a long ago musical mystery and Liebermann’s own will-she-won’t-she romance – this novel convinces with every word.