The Liebermann Papers 1 – Mortal Mischief

Published in the USA as ‘A DEATH IN VIENNA’ (Mortalis)
If you want to see a 6 minute film of Frank Tallis talking about Mortal Mischief in The Freud Museum click here. (Note: the 3.6 MB file is in Windows media format)

‘Tallis’s writing and feel for the period are top class.’
Marcel Berlins, The Times

‘… original and intriguing.’
Joan Smith, The Sunday Times

‘A mouth watering view of Viennese café society … Well and forcefully written.’
Philip Oaks, Literary Review

‘Holmes meets Freud in this enjoyable … whodunnit’
Daniel Pick, The Guardian

‘Witty and entertaining.’
Maxim Jakubowski, Crime Time

‘An unusual and excellent murder mystery of the old fashioned locked room variety … highly entertaining.’
Bernard Knight, former home office pathologist and author. Tangled Web

‘An intriguing, impressive achievement – puts the psychological back into crime and written by a real expert.’
Oliver James, clinical psychologist and author

‘… lashings of medical controversy and colour, all thoroughly researched and introduced convincingly … a gifted author.’
Peter Grahame Woolf, Society of Clinical Psychiatrists

A brief introduction to the series

The starting point …

In September 2002 I was having lunch with my agent and she suggested that I might want to think about writing a detective series. Well, as it happens, an idea had been simmering away – somewhat undeveloped – at the back of my mind for a while. My nascent hero figure was an early 18th century psychiatrist (who would then have been called a ‘mad-doctor’) working at the ‘Bedlam’ hospital. My agent wasn’t terribly impressed, and said that ‘something Victorian’ would appeal to a wider readership. A Victorian setting suggested gaslight, carriages, and the early years of psychoanalysis; however, having just written a history of psychotherapy (featuring Freud) and a history of the unconscious (featuring Freud) I was wasn’t feeling overly keen on the idea. Then, something happened which changed by mind entirely. I was asked to review a new play by Christopher Hampton called ‘The Talking Cure’ for the BBC Radio 4 arts programme, Front Row. The play explored the relationship between Freud, Jung, and Jung’s first psychoanalytic patient, Sabina Spielrein. Unfortunately, the critics were largely hostile. I, on the other hand, loved it. Hampton’s play made me realize that individuals like Freud and Jung could no longer be regarded as ordinary mortals. Psychoanalysis and the story of its origin had acquired a mythical quality, and like all myths, it could (and would) withstand limitless repetition and exploration. Thus inspired, I started to think of a narrative that would marry the Victorian murder mystery with the Freudian case study.

There are many commonalities that link detection and psychoanalysis. Fundamentally, Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes were in the same business.

Freud famously said:

‘He who has eyes to see and ears to hear becomes convinced that mortals can keep no secret. If their lips are silent they gossip with their fingertips; betrayal forces its way through every pore’.

Guilty people are always giving themselves away – unconsciously. For the psychoanalyst, every pause, inflection, or stumble has meaning. Freudian slips render the soul transparent . Even dreams, when interpreted, cannot hide forbidden wishes and desires. A psychoanalyst who placed his skills at the disposal of criminal investigators would be a formidable adversary. Gradually, as I mulled all this over, a character began to take shape.

Max …

Dr. Max Liebermann is a psychoanalyst and disciple of Sigmund Freud. We meet him in 1902, when he is in his late twenties, having just made the acquaintance of Freud. Psychoanalysis is in its very early stages of development, and the air of excitement is palpable. Liebermann regularly attends Wednesday night meetings at Freud’s apartment, Bergasse 19, where a small group of doctors gather – like a secret society – to discuss their revolutionary investigations into the darker side of human nature.

Liebermann is an accomplished pianist – and enjoys musical evenings with his friend Oskar Rheinhardt, a fine lyrical baritone, who also happens to be a detective inspector. It is through Rheinhardt that Liebermann becomes involved with police investigations, applying his psychoanalytic knowledge – particularly when suspects are interviewed. Lieberman’s technique, of course, is to allow unconscious processes to betray their misdemeanours ‘through every pore’.

Vienna …

The Liebermann Papers are set in Vienna, between 1902 and 1914. It was a time of unprecedented activity in the worlds of philosophy, science and the arts. The coffee houses of Vienna became lively debating societies, in which the political, social, and cultural agenda of the 20th century was set. Sigmund Freud, Arnold Schoenberg, Arthur Schnitzler, Gustav Klimt, Theodor Herzl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Gustav Mahler, were all neighbours; however, at the same time, Vienna was playing host to a quite different set of thinkers. German mystics, social Darwinists, and race theorists whose ideas would eventually be consolidated under the banner of Hitler’s National Socialism.

Early 20th century Vienna was also a place in which the foundations of modern forensic science were being laid. Karl Landsteiner was working in the laboratories of the Vienna Pathological Institute, and in 1901 he demonstrated that there were at least three major blood types. Following Britain’s lead (in 1901), the Viennese constabulary were beginning to experiment with finger-prints as a means of identifying criminals. Moreover, several psychologists (many influenced by psychoanalysis) were attempting to identify ‘criminal stigmata’ (aspects of appearance and behaviour associated with criminality).

Today, we would immediately recognize their efforts as an early example of ‘offender profiling’. When the New Police Building on Elizabethpromenade (today’s Rossauer Laende) was finished in 1904, it was the most modern Police Building in the world, making the Viennese Police Corps internationally famous.

It is interesting that criminology and forensic sciences emerged at exactly the same time as psychoanalysis. In 1893, Hans Gross (also Viennese) published the first handbook of criminal investigation. It was the same year that Freud published (with Josef Breuer) his first work on psychoanalysis – a preliminary communication On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena.

Mortal Mischief / A Death In Viennaand other Frank Tallis titles can be purchased on Amazon.

Comments are closed.