Friday, July 17, 2009

Fatal Lies

"He was aware that everything he did was merely a game, merely something to help him over this time at school, this larval period of his existence. It was without relation to his real personality, which would emerge only later, at some time still a long way off in the future."
- The Confusions of Young Torless, Robert Musil

It was, in part, the inspiration of Robert Musil's novella, The Confusions of Young Torless, about a young cadet struggling toward self-definition while experiencing the erotic tensions of puberty, that led Frank Tallis to write the mystery novel Fatal Lies.
The heart of the mystery is the machinations a small group of cadets led by Kiefer Wolf, a precocious underclassman. They are attending a private boys' school, Saint Florian, that is replete with ancient traditions and eccentric teachers. It is this story line that draws on Musil's novella most directly with the addition of explicit Nietzschean influences on young Wolf. But the key to the success of Tallis' novel is his intelligent use of the setting of fin-de-siecle Vienna and the blend of medicine, music, psychology and history that makes this a satisfying read. The lead detective, Reinhardt and his ally, Dr. Max Liebermann, an expert in the new psychiatric methods of Sigmund Freud, are both intelligent and believable characters in this well-constructed mystery. Each of the main characters must deal with their own issues and their stories are only slightly less interesting than the primary mystery. I was eagerly apprehensive most of the novel as the plot and sub-plots moved forward with alacrity. The climax was also satisfying; So much so that I look forward to reading Tallis' two previous mysteries (also set in Vienna).

Fatal Lies by Frank Tallis. Random House, New York. 2009.

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