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The Crooked Maid

The Crooked Maid

3.5 2
by Dan Vyleta

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Vienna, 1948. The war is over, and as the initial phase of de-Nazification winds down, the citizens of Vienna struggle to rebuild their lives amidst the rubble.

Anna Beer returns to the city she fled nine years earlier after discovering her husband's infidelity. She has come back to find him and, perhaps, to forgive him. Traveling on the same train from


Vienna, 1948. The war is over, and as the initial phase of de-Nazification winds down, the citizens of Vienna struggle to rebuild their lives amidst the rubble.

Anna Beer returns to the city she fled nine years earlier after discovering her husband's infidelity. She has come back to find him and, perhaps, to forgive him. Traveling on the same train from Switzerland is 18-year-old Robert Seidel, a schoolboy summoned home to his stepfather's sickbed and the secrets of his family's past.

As Anna and Robert navigate an unrecognizable city, they cross paths with a war-widowed American journalist, a hunchbacked young servant girl, and a former POW whose primary purpose is to survive by any means and to forget. Meanwhile, in the shells of burned-out houses and beneath the bombed-out ruins, a ghost of a man, his head wrapped in a red scarf, battles demons from his past and hides from a future deeply uncertain for all.

In The Crooked Maid, Dan Vyleta returns to the shadows of war-darkened Vienna, proving himself once again "a magical storyteller, master of the macabre" (David Park).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in Vienna in 1948 when the scars of WWII were fresh, Vyleta’s well-crafted but overly elliptical new novel (after The Quiet Twin) begins with a chance encounter. Robert Seidel, “exiled” at his Swiss boarding school during the war and on his way home, meets Anna Beer, an older woman returning to Vienna to look for her estranged husband, a psychiatrist and former POW in a Russian camp. Seidel’s household is darkly comic and highly dysfunctional: his mother insane, his father in a coma, his brother in jail for trying to murder the father, the family tenuously held together by the brusque street smarts of Eva Frey, the maid of the title (she has a deformity of the spine). The plot plods along, powered by the vaguest whisperings of suspense (Where is Beer’s husband? What happened during the War? Is Robert’s brother guilty?), but Vyleta’s goal seems to be to couple a Graham Greene–like atmosphere of suspicion and fear with a European intellectual novelistic endeavor (the story is a parable of guilt and reconciliation). Farcical, Kafkaesque, and teeming with odd leitmotifs (crows play a symbolic role), this novel could benefit from stronger storytelling and less symbolism, but should appeal to fans of writers like Heinrich Böll. Agent: Simon Lipskar, Writers House. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

“Gracefully executed... Dramatic.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A true storyteller who is also a prose stylist.” —The National Post

“Conveys the sparse, foreboding mood of Poe or Dostoevsky... Vyleta masterfully weaves his characters together in the light and shadow of war-torn Vienna.” —Shelf Awareness, starred review

“A psychological novel . . . [It] conjures up the stifling atmosphere of shame and deception of the postwar period.” —Booklist

Kirkus Reviews
A dour excursion into a pocket of postwar Vienna, shaped by parricide, lost loves and remnants of Nazi malevolence. This sequel to Vyleta's 2012 novel, The Quiet Twin, moves the action from pre–World War II Vienna to 1948, as two people return to the city: Robert, a young man trying to uncover why his stepfather was thrown to his death from a window of the family home, and Anna, who wants to locate her long-missing husband, the doctor at the center of the previous novel. Robert's old home is occupied by a nightmarish cast of characters: His mother is lost in drugs and alcohol and unwilling to part with her portrait of Hitler; his stepbrother, Wolfgang, stands accused of murdering his father; and Wolfgang's wife is a study in ignorant lassitude. The home is being cared for--or barely so--by Eva, the hunchbacked maid of the title, who bitterly mocks Robert's efforts to understand what's happened. Life at Anna's old home is only marginally better, as her efforts to locate her husband bring her into the orbit of a U.S. expat journalist and an earnest ne'er-do-well, as well as Robert, with whom a semblance of romance blossoms. As in The Quiet Twin, Vyleta piles on intersecting characters but not always to useful effect; if Eva is meant as a symbol of the degradations of a decade under the Nazis' iron hand, she's too unlikable and too absent from much of the narrative to do the job well. Wolfgang's trial gives the novel a lift, encapsulating the mood of bloodlust and suspicion that seems to consume the city. But the multiple plot vectors dampen the story; by the time the fate of Anna's husband finally becomes clear, it registers little emotional effect. Vyleta conjures an appropriate landscape of gloom and ruin and sends too many people off to wander in it.

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Dan Vyleta is the son of Czech refugees who emigrated to Germany in the late 1960s. He holds a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge. His previous novels are Pavel & I and The Quiet Twin. Vyleta is a Canadian citizen and lives in Wisconsin. www.danvyleta.com

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The Crooked Maid: A Novel 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
TeenAtHeart More than 1 year ago
Review originally posted at Bettering Me Up. Apparently, this is the sequel to The Quiet Twin, which I didn't know until after I was done reading the book. The Crooked Maid works as a stand-alone novel, but I hate reading series out of order. If I had known that this was a follow-up, I wouldn't have requested this from NetGalley. That being said, the Vyleta's writing is beautiful and I fell in love with the imagery he presented. This is definitely an "intelligent" book, so be prepared to read this without any distractions. If you're looking for a light, fluffy novel, find something else and come back to this when you're ready to crank those brain cells. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Angie_Lisle More than 1 year ago
The story revolves around a couple of murders in post-war Vienna, when many POWs are making their ways home from prison camps. I started this book with the idea that it was a murder-mystery - it is, but the story doesn't adhere to the traditional format of a murder-mystery. The book revolves around human nature, murder just being a by-product of community. In the acknowledgements, the author admits to paying homage to Dostoevsky and Dickens; I'm inclined to agree. The book never lets readers escape the effects of WWII - the war shades every word, description, and habit. The characters are as scarred as their city. That being said, a lot of the prose slips into past tense, which makes for some very dry reading. The plot is slow to start, with a lot of time taken to describe the setting and introduce characters - this won't bother history buffs but may turn off some readers. The strange twists in the narrative-format kept me in the dark until Vyleta was ready to tell me what I needed to know for the story to progress. I gave up trying to guess the end about half-way through the book; I admit, the end wasn't what I expected. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.