Mephisto Waltz

Written by Frank Tallis
Review by Francesca Pelaccia

Mephisto Waltz, a Max Liebermann Mystery, finds the Freudian psychiatrist Max and Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt in 1904 Vienna, trying to make sense of the murders of people who appear to have no relation to each other. As they search for answers, their investigation leads them to a group of political activists, whose goal is to eradicate poverty and introduce equal rights for all. The group is headed by a mysterious and elusive person who goes by the name of Mephistopheles. When Max and Oskar find bomb-making equipment in one of the group members’ homes and a coded letter on the bomb maker, they call on experts, including Max’s love interest, Amelia, to help them break the code and locate the bomb before it can subvert the status quo.

Mephisto Waltz is an intricately but elegantly written mystery as much as it is an immersion in the time. Vienna in 1904 is brought to life through vivid and detailed illustrations of situations, places, food, and the cultural milieu, such as the inequality between classes and between men and women, especially regarding scholarly pursuits. Classical music plays a part in the plot, as does the psychology and science of the day. All the characters, whether they appear for only a short chapter or turn out to be integral, are also individualized and given authentic names. My hat goes off to Tallis for creating such individual characters and names, but it was difficult to remember who was who and if I should remember them in case they turned out to be important.

Mephisto Waltz is an interesting read, especially to gain insight into the time.