Fatal Lies (Max Liebermann Series #3)

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Overview

A dogged police inspector and an insightful young psychiatrist match wits with depraved criminal minds in this acclaimed mystery series set in Freud’s Vienna.

In glittering turn-of-the-century Vienna, brutal instinct and refined intellect fight for supremacy. The latest, most disturbing example: the mysterious and savage death of a young cadet in the most elite of military academies, St. Florian’s. Even using his cutting-edge investigative techniques, Detective Inspector Oskar ...

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Fatal Lies (Max Liebermann Series #3)

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Overview

A dogged police inspector and an insightful young psychiatrist match wits with depraved criminal minds in this acclaimed mystery series set in Freud’s Vienna.

In glittering turn-of-the-century Vienna, brutal instinct and refined intellect fight for supremacy. The latest, most disturbing example: the mysterious and savage death of a young cadet in the most elite of military academies, St. Florian’s. Even using his cutting-edge investigative techniques, Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt cannot crack the school’s closed and sadistic world. He must again enlist the aid of his frequent ally, Dr. Max Liebermann, an expert in Freudian psychology. But how can Liebermann help when he a crisis of his own: handling his conflicted and forbidden feelings for two different women, one a former patient? As the case unfolds, powerful forces will stop at nothing to keep a dark secret.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Frank Tallis has surged to the front of the field riding his dark horse, Vienna in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. ….While it’s always a delight to visit the ballrooms where Strauss is played and the opera house where Mahler is rehearsing and the coffeehouses where ideas are devoured mit Schlag, this smart series has far more to offer than decorative charm."—New York Times Book Review

Another immensely satisfying novel in Frank Tallis' intelligent and subtle Dr. Liebermann/Inspector Rheinhardt series…dense, engrossing….a fine adventure."—Boston Globe

"St. Florian's Military Academy outside Vienna serves as the forbidding backdrop for Tallis's stellar third historical to feature Insp. Oskar Rheinhardt and Dr. Max Liebermann…Several late twists lead to a startling resolution of this compelling tale." —Publisher's Weekly, starred review

"What is basically a murder mystery becomes something quite extraordinary as Tallis skillfully weaves in the politics, history, music, and social customs of turn-of-the-century Vienna. Another outstanding entry in an erudite and mesmerizing series; a must for historical-mystery devotees." —Booklist, starred review

"Tallis's singular achievement is to bring vividly to life many of the glories and dangers of a great city at a crucial moment in its history....immensely satisyfing….The author delights us with rich, often gorgeous prose...[He] has an exceptional ability to move seamlessly among varied plot elements, characters and emotions….If you're looking for the best in popular fiction, it's well worth seeking out."—Washington Post

Patrick Anderson
Fatal Lies is the third of Frank Tallis's immensely satisfying literary thrillers set in Vienna at the start of the 20th century…Tallis (a clinical psychologist who lives in London) has an exceptional ability to move seamlessly among varied plot elements, characters and emotions. Fatal Lies is being published as a trade paperback, which means it is less costly but somewhat more difficult to find than most new novels. No matter. If you're looking for the best in popular fiction, it's well worth seeking out.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

St. Florian's Military Academy outside Vienna serves as the forbidding backdrop for Tallis's stellar third historical to feature Insp. Oskar Rheinhardt and Dr. Max Liebermann (after 2008's Vienna Blood). Harshly ruled by headmaster Julius Eichmann, St. Florian's is the scene of bizarre initiation rites-some involving torture, and murder. The body of the most recent victim, a 15-year-old Czech boy, has numerous cuts and lacerations across his arms and torso. During their meticulous inquiries at St. Florian's, Rheinhardt and Liebermann learn of illicit liaisons among female staff and sex-starved students and also between an elusive math teacher and the murdered boy. The thinkers and writers of early 20th-century Vienna play their parts, including Liebermann's idol, Sigmund Freud, and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose "übermensch" theory inspires one student's brutalities. Several late twists lead to a startling resolution of this compelling tale. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Layers of deceit complicate a murder probe at a Viennese military school. In the winter of 1902, police inspector Oskar Rheinhardt is called away from a night of ballroom dancing to investigate an unusual death at Saint Florian's, an exclusive boys' academy. The victim is mild-mannered student Thomas Zelenka, 15. Absent any obvious signs of violent death, the preliminary conclusion excludes foul play. But Rheinhardt-assisted again by his close friend, brilliant psychotherapist Max Liebermann (Vienna Blood, 2008, etc.)-is suspicious of strange scratches on the adolescent's chest and armpits. Neither headmaster Eichmann nor the teaching staff go out of their way to cooperate, and math teacher Herr Sommer, rumored to be Zelenka's confidant, suffers a fall that conveniently delays an interview. On the other hand, Frau Becker, wife of the assistant headmaster, eventually discloses her close relationship with the boy, and the author reveals that St. Florian's harbors a sadistic cult led by swaggering student Wolf. Rheinhardt must tread carefully in questioning Wolf, the nephew of a police commissioner already leery of the inspector's progressive methods. Meanwhile, a torrid affair with exotic Hungarian musician Trezska Novak brings Liebermann to the brink of personal destruction via a budding addiction to absinthe. Tallis' elegant prose aptly evokes the period. He explores his protagonists' depths and again offers a strong flavor of contemporary arts, science and social history. On balance, an absorbing historical novel first and a mystery second. Agent: Gillon Aitken/Gillon Aitken Associates
The Barnes & Noble Review
It is easy to see why so many novelists are drawn to early fin-de-siècle Vienna. There is the music, art, literature, and architecture. There are figures such as Freud and Mahler who cry out for fictional reincarnation. Above all, there is the tottering empire, still glittering but rotten at its core, and churning beneath it the imminent chaos of the 20th century and of two world wars. Frank Tallis, in his exceptionally fine Dr. Liebermann/Inspector Rheinhardt series, incorporates all these elements with such subtlety and depth of understanding that his shadowy Vienna becomes both more familiar and more intriguing as the series progresses.

The psychological depth of these novels is hardly surprising; Tallis is a practicing clinical psychologist and one of Britain's leading experts on obsessional states. You might expect his hero, Dr. Max Liebermann, to be a psychoanalyst and a student of Freud, as turns out to be the case. More surprising, perhaps, is the fact that Fatal Lies was inspired by the works of the Austrian writer Robert Musil (1880–1942). "Saint Florian's military school owes an enormous debt to the oberrealschule described in Musil's The Confusions of Young Torless," Tallis acknowledges, referring to the fictional academy in his own novel. He goes on to explain that Musil's novel "...catalogues the psychological development of a young man as he struggles to make sense of a world in which bullying and ritual humiliation are commonplace" and is therefore "...a chilling exploration of the origins of fascism."

Such pronouncements might portend a novel as heavy as a Viennese Sacher torte. But as past installments in the series have shown, Tallis folds his ideas lightly into crime narratives that never lose their buoyancy. He even allows us some romantic froth. In Vienna Blood, for example, Liebermann's doomed engagement to the shallow Clara and his attraction to his English patient, Amelia Lydgate, created suspense as real as that generated by the novel's murders. And Fatal Lies opens not with a march but a waltz. Amelia is in Liebermann's arms, her "...flesh, shifting beneath velvet," as they dance together at the annual detective's ball.

The layers of meaning here are delicious. When Amelia, the novice, cannot "feel" the beat as Liebermann urges, he decodes the rhythm for her. "I believe," continued Liebermann, "that the optimal speed of the Viennese waltz is said to be approximately thirty revolutions per minute." He saw Amelia glance at his exposed wristwatch. "However, I do not think it will be necessary for us to gauge our performance against this nominal ideal." Guided by science, Amelia improves while Liebermann, inflamed by the sight of his partner's bare shoulders, nonetheless plays the familiar role of dry pedagogue. With easy grace, Tallis immediately conjures up the tensions -- social, political, religious, sexual -- that Liebermann, a secular Jew, and Amelia, a single woman and a scientist, embody.

While Liebermann and Amelia waltz, envying the grace of plump Inspector Rheinhardt and his wife, a boy is found dead at the nearby military academy. Rheinhardt leaves to investigate, and soon Liebermann is assisting his friend with observations, analysis, and intuition. "Human beings are always revealing themselves in the little things that they do," Liebermann tells Rheinhardt, who has, of course, already noticed this. These two friends are often compared with Holmes and Watson or with Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin, and there are obvious similarities. They play music together in private, for example, Liebermann accompanying Rheinhardt as he sings Schubert or Mahler, and the emotional truths revealed by music often illuminate their criminal investigations.

Such moments, in which the cultural and social climate of Vienna is so richly conveyed, are strikingly at odds with the military world of Saint Florian's, where the novel spends much of its time and where some of its most disturbing incidents occur. We learn (before our detectives do) that the academy harbors a sadistic student fellowship whose leader, Kiefer Wolf, models himself on Nietzsche's U¨bermensch and fortifies his "will to power" with bouts of torture and occasional sodomy. Here Tallis introduces us to killers in the making: the zealous, the terrified, the sadistic, and the simply dull boys who will, as adults, march in lockstep to keep the wheels of empire turning. On one visit to the academy, Rheinhardt and Liebermann observe the machinery in action. "Close by, some cadets were presenting arms, and beyond them more boys could be seen quick marching around a square of tar-grouted macadam. An order from the rifle lieutenant brought the fast-moving column to an abrupt halt. The two friends looked at each other, and their gazes communicated a mutual disquiet -- a tacit suspicion of martial virtues."

Soon another terrified boy will die, but was the earlier death the sadistic Wolf's doing? As Rheinhardt and Liebermann interview the academy's staff, they begin to suspect that young Zelenka, the first victim, may have been fatally involved in adult rather than juvenile affairs. Both men notice, for example, that Becker, the school's deputy headmaster, has a strikingly attractive young wife. "Rheinhardt found himself glancing down at the young woman's blouse. It was made of black lace and lined with flesh-colored silk, a combination that created a tantalizing illusion of immodesty. A gentleman's eye was automatically drawn down to the transparent webbing, which promised the possibility of indecent revelation." Tallis is a master of such details: Liebermann, for example, "...fishing noodles out of his broth and watching them slither off his spoon like tiny serpents;" a massive chandelier from which "Stalactites of congealed wax [hang] like a macabre merry-go-round of dangling atrophied fingers." Through the claustrophobic atmosphere that Tallis so vividly creates, we repeatedly glimpse the illicit, the subversive.

Liebermann is hardly immune to such forces. Sexually frustrated in the earlier novels, here he enjoys a sudden, lusty affair with a mysterious Hungarian violinist who introduces him to absinthe. This sounds sillier than it is; Trezska is not only irresistible but possibly dangerous: when an Austrian general is found shot in the head and Hungarian revolutionaries become the most likely suspects, Liebermann's dalliance almost turns deadly. The young doctor finds himself in a dark alley, facing down a man with a pistol, and the novel's threads are pulled neatly -- but not mechanically -- together. The motives for the crimes at St. Florian's turn out to be more shabby than monstrous, because Tallis is not that interested in monsters; the frailty of individuals and the fragility of civilized society are his main concern. So Fatal Lies ends where it began, with a waltz -- as Liebermann, holding Amelia, contemplates "The rapid motion, the relentless turning, the dizzy euphoria, the heat of a woman's back felt in the palm of one's hand...." --Anna Mundow

Anna Mundow writes "The Interview" and the "Historical Novels" columns for The Boston Globe and is a contributor to The Irish Times.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812977776
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/24/2009
  • Series: Max Liebermann Series , #3
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 496,359
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank Tallis is a writer and practicing clinical psychologist. He is the author of two previous Dr. Max Liebermann novels: Vienna Blood and Mortal Mischief.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Murder in beguiling Vienna

    Detective Inspector Oskar Reinhardt and young Freudian psychologist Dr. Max Liebermann team up for the third time over the death of a boy at St. Florian's, a secretive, repressive, elite school near Vienna.

    It's the beginning of the 20th century and Vienna is a glittering jewel of cutting edge ideas, gorgeous, sensual music, and wonderful food, especially the rich and elaborate pastries.

    St. Florian's however, is steeped in tradition, an insular place teeming with cliques and hazing rituals. The dead boy - a scholarship student, abused by a thuggish group of aristocratic boys - is marked with ritual cuts. Making little headway with his close-mouthed witnesses, Reinhardt calls in Liebermann whose Freudian ideas may provide some insight. The reader, meanwhile, has the benefit of inside knowledge - the viewpoint of Wolf, the boys' psychopathic leader, inspired by the ideas of Nietzsche.

    While the mystery provides the bones of the plot, Vienna and the protagonists' lives flesh it out. It's ball season and the lush waltzes lend headiness to Liebermann's enchantment with Miss Lydgate, an intellectual English girl and former patient. However, jealousy rears its ugly head and Liebermann consoles himself with a beautiful and rather wanton Hungarian violinist who introduces him to absinthe. Other evenings ring with his and Reinhardt's companionable vocal and piano duets.

    Tallis, a London clinical psychologist, has produced a witty, atmospheric and beautifully written series brimming with the enthusiasm and sophistication of new ideas for a new century, coupled with the grandeur and stateliness of old Vienna. This heady atmosphere pervades the comfortable, well-padded life of the cultured upper class, well insulated from the poorer classes and the new political ideas brewing in more radical circles.

    Newcomers will be sure to seek out the earlier books, "A Death in Vienna," and "Vienna Blood," while fans will look forward to the fourth book, "Darkness Rising," to be published here next year.

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  • Posted April 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Enjoyable reading, something to look forward to, interesting view of turn of the century Vienna

    I read the books in chronological order, waiting impatiently for the 2nd to come out after reading the 1st, likewise waiting for the 3rd. I like the main characters, the setting, and being taken into the midst of early 20th century Vienna, warts and all.

    I got the bad feeling that the 3rd book was the last, but hope it is not so. Plenty of storyline left and Max Liebermann needs to resolve his pursuit of his former patient. And perhaps a young Adolf Hitler can be brought into one of the future books. A chance encounter with Liebermann's muse, Dr Freud.

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  • Posted February 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Using real famous Vienna persona to anchor time and place, Frank Tallis writes a great historical mystery

    Headmaster Julis Eichmann runs St. Florian's Military Academy near Vienna with an iron fist. However, when fifteen year old student Thomas Zelenka is found dead, Police Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt and psychotherapist Dr. Max Liebermann lead the official inquiry though the latter detests time away from Hungarian musician Trezska Novak.<BR/><BR/>On the surface, there is no evidence of a homicide though the two sleuths wonder why the victim has so many cuts and scratches all over his torso even under his armpits. Although no one cooperates, especially the headmaster, the investigators soon learn of sexual trysts between the faculty and staff with the students. Especially alarming is an alleged encounter between the dead teen and a teacher Herr Sommer as well as the pupil with the wife of the assistant headmaster. Finally they uncover a student cult dedicated to Nietzsche led by the nephew of Police Commissioner Brugel, who already loathes the use of Freudian psychology in official investigations.<BR/><BR/>Using real famous Vienna persona to anchor time and place, Frank Tallis writes a great historical mystery. The story line is fast-paced as the lead sleuths follow clues that take them into diverse directions. The whodunit is clever, but once again as with BLOOD AND DEATH IN VIENNA, it is the profound look at intellectual Vienna circa 1900 that owns the novel.<BR/><BR/>Harriet Klausner

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