Tallis, Frank - 'Fatal Lies'
Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt is dancing Viennese waltzes at the Detectives' Ball in the capital of Austria in 1903, when suddenly he is interrupted and asked to attend a reported fatality at a local military school St Florians. He is obliged to attend in his formal evening wear. When he arrives at the school in the early hours he inspects the body which is of a fifteen year old boy. The cause of death seems uncertain and the detective is quite baffled and asks his friend the psychiatrist and disciple of Freud, Dr Max Liebermann, for help.
The body of the boy seemed unmarked with the exception of some small healed patches of scars. One patch was above his right nipple, another patch was below the left armpit and a further patch on the upper thigh just below the genitals. He had been moved from the school laboratory, where the body was originally discovered, to the infirmary. His master confirms the boy had been engaged in voluntary extra studies in the laboratory doing experiments on the effect of vinegar on various substances.
The investigation by Inspector Rheinhardt of the deceased's background is most revealing. The boy was from a poor background attending the school on a scholarship and was very isolated because the majority of pupils were from wealthy families. He was most certainly the victim of sadistic bullying but the detectives and psychiatrist have great difficulty in getting help from the staff and fellow pupils of the school.
Dr Max Liebermann, during one of the question and answer sessions he does with the boys uses an ink blot test as a psychoanalytic tool to test the veracity of the boys' answers and he obtains some surprising results.
Meanwhile, Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt's difficult relationship with his immediate boss is going from bad to worse. Oskar is finding the limits he is putting on him whilst he investigates the St Florian affair extremely irritating.
Dr Max had attended the Detectives' Ball with a new girlfriend whom he was very attracted to, until later, quite by chance, he observed her passionately embracing a stranger in a Vienna Street. However he strikes up a relationship with a beautiful Hungarian concert violinist which soon develops into a passionate affair.
After many interesting adventures and atmospheric turns, the story makes a quite unexpected reveal leading to a very surprising ending.
I loved this book and can thoroughly recommend it; with these characters, the author has captured the atmosphere and flavour of the times to portray a realistic period setting. I did not want it to end - the quality and depth of the writing is on such a high level. With the inclusion of German quotations one could be forgiven for thinking that this was a good translation of a foreign book and it is quite a surprise that the author is a practising clinical psychologist working in London. I look forward to reading more from Frank Tallis.
Read another review of FATAL LIES.
Terry Halligan, England