Mephisto Waltz, seventh in the
Max Liebermann Mystery series, unfolds in Vienna at the turn of the twentieth
century. It was a time and place of high culture, from music and art to coffee
and pastries; of scientific advances, from photographic equipment and
fingerprinting techniques to the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud; and
of dissatisfaction, disruption and change emerging in everything from
the social roles of women to the rise of anarchist movements. Max Liebermann is a
psychiatrist and follower of Freud's theories who often finds himself assisting
his friend, police detective Oskar Rheinhardt. They are just two of a large,
vividly described cast of characters.
Mephisto Waltz opens with a historical event which sets the tone
for the fictional murder case which Rheinhardt, with Liebermann's assistance,
must attempt to solve amid a complex and sometimes gruesome mass of clues, some of which prove misleading.
Almost throughout, the reader knows more than the investigators, including glimpses of a sinister character with a "pointed
beard and aquiline nose" who resembles "Lucifer, in the guise of an
aging libertine." Though this man is clearly implicated in some way, he remains cloaked in enough mystery to keep
readers wondering how he ties into the details of the case.
The chapters are short, often just two or three pages, creating a mosaic-like impression of fin de siècle Vienna and its people. As with a mosaic, the story's overall shape can be hard to make out until enough scenes pile up for readers recognize the recurring characters and the patterns of their lives, something that will likely be easier for readers familiar with the central characters from other novels in the series. Distinctly of their time, the characters nevertheless suggest parallels to people and phenomena of our own time, as for example when Liebermann reflects that "large groups, crowds, especially, are characterized by extremities of action. The usual prohibitions of civilized life cease to have effect and violence can easily erupt." (2018; 293 pages, including a Note on History and Sources)More about Mephisto Waltz at Powell's Books or The Book Depository