Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Couple of Recent Reads

Getting some reading done lately...and here's two samples from the bookshelf.

I came across Frank Tallis' A Death in Vienna in the local library and was intrigued. It's first in a series set in Vienna of the early 1900s, a setting I've always found fascinating. And it didn't disappoint.

Max Liebermann is a psychologist, a student of Freud, and something of a maverick in his focus on talk therapy for patients rather than crude electrotherapy or other discredited treatments. He's friends with Oskar Rheinhardt, a police detective, who calls his friend in to help him when a young medium is found dead. She's posed as if it were a suicide, and shot in the chest...but there's no bullet. And the room is locked from the inside. It's a classic locked-room mystery with a twist in the setting and characters. Which of the medium's regular clients could be responsible?

Lots of cool atmosphere here, and the descriptions of Old Vienna are fun. Oskar applies the latest police methods, and Max applies the latest psychological ideas, and are a great team. The story is great classic detection; the medium is revealed as a fraud, and they dip into the issues of fake mediums of the era. And there's echoes of the quiet firm step of the Nazi party coming down the line, with some characters being openly anti-Semitic. We get a lot of the character's inner lives, with Oskar coping with his anniversary, and Max getting engaged...but by the end appears to be having second thoughts.

My only complaint is that I wish we knew more about how the two became friends...but maybe that comes in a later book. This is a series I definitely want to read more of...this one left me craving strudel and Strauss, so maybe I can whip up some treats and play some waltzes next time I dip into it.

The Red Thumb Mark (1907) is R. Austin Freeman's first novel, and the work that introduced pioneering medical detective John Thorndyke. It spends a bit of time establishing characters, and is inevitably narrated by Thorndyke's Watson, Dr. Jervis. Thorndyke was a very new type of character, really. He used his medical knowledge and all the latest knowledge, and was also written with style and verve. Thorndyke was also a very handsome man; R. Austin Freeman's way of thumbing his nose at the then-current literary habit of having heroes and detectives being unattractive or even rather ugly. (Sapper's Bulldog Drummond was described in the books as a fairly ugly man, although he was played by the dashing Ronald Coleman in film.)

Young Reuben Hornby has been accused of theft form his uncle's gold and silver business; most damning is a bloody thumbprint that is unmistakably Hornby's, even though he claims innocence. It's up to Thorndyke and Jervis to figure out how it happened, and find evidence that the thumbprint is faked....and how?

There are debits in this novel, partly because the crime itself is a bit dull, and really, this is something that could be a longish short story and sometimes feels padded. Problems with plotting aside, it's well-written and with good characterizations, and the final courtroom confrontation, when it's revealed how the thumbprint was faked, is exciting and excellent reading. I definitely want to read more of these.

More coming up....

No comments: