A Death in Vienna (Max Liebermann Series #1)

A Death in Vienna (Max Liebermann Series #1)

by Frank Tallis

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“[An] elegant historical mystery . . . stylishly presented and intelligently resolved” set at the dawn of psychoanalysis (The New York Times Book Review).
In Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century, Max Liebermann, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud’s, is at the forefront of psychoanalysis, practicing the controversial new science with all the skill of a master detective. Every dream, inflection, or slip of tongue in his “hysterical” patients has meaning and reveals some hidden truth. When beautiful medium Charlotte Löwenstein dies under extraordinary circumstances, Max’s good friend, Detective Oskar Rheinhardt, calls for his expert assistance. Her body has been found in a room that can only be locked from the inside. She’s been shot through the heart, but there’s no gun and absolutely no trace of a bullet. All signs point to a supernatural killer, but Liebermann the scientist is not so easily convinced. Especially when one of Charlotte’s clients is also found in a locked room—this time bludgeoned to death.
Unfolding in the Vienna of Klimt and Mahler, a time of unprecedented activity in the worlds of philosophy, science, and art, A Death in Vienna is “an engrossing portrait of a legendary period as well as a brain teaser of startling perplexity” (Chicago Tribune).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802191649
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 03/10/2015
Series: Max Liebermann Series , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 175,959
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Frank Tallis is a practicing clinical psychologist and an expert in obsessional states. He is the author of Death and the Maiden,Vienna Twilight,Vienna Secrets,Fatal Lies, and Vienna Blood, as well as seven nonfiction works on psychology and two previous novels, Killing Time and Sensing Others. he is the recipient of a Writers' Award from the Arts Council of Great Britain and the New London Writer's Award from the London Arts Board. A Death in Vienna was short-listed for the 2005 Crime Writers' Association Historical Dagger Award. Tallis lives in London.

Read an Excerpt


It was the day of the great storm. I remember it well because my father – Mendel Liebermann – had suggested that we meet for coffee at The Imperial. I had a strong suspicion that something was on his mind ...

A roiling mass of black cloud had risen from behind the Opera House like a volcanic eruption of sulphurous smoke and ash. Its dimensions suggested impending doom – an epic catastrophe on the scale of Pompeii. In the strange amber light, the surrounding buildings had become jaundiced. Perched on the rooftops, the decorative statuary – classical figures and triumphal eagles – seemed to have been carved from brimstone. A fork of lightning flowed down the mountain of cloud like a river of molten iron. The earth trembled and the air stirred, yet still there was no rain. The coming storm seemed to be saving itself – building its reserves of power in preparation for an apocalyptic deluge.

The tram bell sounded, rousing Liebermann from his reverie and dispersing a group of horse-drawn carriages on the lines.

As the tram rolled forwards, Liebermann wondered why his father had wanted to see him. It wasn't that such a meeting was unusual; they often met for coffee. Rather, it was something about the manner in which the invitation had been issued. Mendel's voice had been curiously strained – reedy and equivocal. Moreover, his nonchalance had been unconvincing, suggesting to Liebermann the concealment of an ulterior – or perhaps even unconscious – motive. But what might that be?

The tram slowed in the heavy traffic of the Karntner Ring and Liebermann jumped off before the vehicle had reached its stop. He raised the collar of his astrakhan coat against the wind and hurried towards his destination.

Even though lunch had already been served, The Imperial was seething with activity. Waiters, with silver trays held high, were dodging each other between crowded tables, and the air was filled with animated conversation. At the back of the café, a pianist was playing a Chopin mazurka. Liebermann wiped the condensation off his spectacles with a handkerchief and hung his coat on the stand.

'Good afternoon, Herr Doctor.'

Liebermann recognised the voice and without turning replied: 'Good afternoon, Bruno. I trust you are well?'

'I am, sir. Very well indeed.'

When Liebermann turned, the waiter continued: 'If you'd like to come this way, sir. Your father is already here.'

Bruno beckoned, and guided Liebermann through the hectic room. They arrived at a table near the back, where Mendel was concealed behind the densely printed sheets of the Weiner Zeitung.

'Herr Liebermann?' said Bruno. Mendel folded his paper. He was a thickset man with a substantial beard and bushy eyebrows. His expression was somewhat severe – although softened by a liberal network of laughter lines. The waiter added: 'Your son.'

'Ahh, Maxim!' said the old man. 'There you are!' He sounded a little irritated, as though he had been kept waiting.

After a moment's hesitation, Liebermann replied: 'But I'm early, father.'

Mendel consulted his pocket watch.

'So you are. Well, sit down, sit down. Another Pharisäer for me and ... Max?' He invited his son to order.

'A Schwarzer, please, Bruno.'

The waiter executed a modest bow and was gone.

'So,' said Mendel. 'How are you, my boy?'

'Very well, father.'

'You're looking a bit thinner than usual.'

'Am I?'

'Yes. Drawn.'

'I hadn't noticed.'

'Are you eating properly?'

Liebermann laughed: 'Very well, as it happens. And how are you, father?'

Mendel grimaced.

'Achh! Good days and bad days, you know how it is. I'm seeing that specialist you recommended, Pintsch. And there is some improvement, I suppose. But my back isn't much better.'

'Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.'

Mendel dismissed his son's remark with a wave of his hand.

'Do you want something to eat?' Mendel pushed the menu across the table. 'You look like you need it. I think I'll have the Topfenstrudel.'

Liebermann studied the extensive cakelist: Apfeltorte, Cremeschnitte, Truffeltorte, Apfelstrudel. It ran on over several pages.

'Your mother sends her love,' said Mendel, 'and would like to know when she can expect to see you again.' His expression hovered somewhere between sympathy and reprimand.

'I'm sorry, father,' said Liebermann. 'I've been very busy. Too many patients ... Tell mother I'll try to see her next week. Friday, perhaps?' 'Then you must come to dinner.'

'Yes,' said Liebermann, suddenly feeling that he had already committed himself more than he really wanted. 'Yes. Thank you.' He looked down at the menu again: Dobostorte, Gugelhupf, Linzertorte. The Chopin mazurka ended on a loud minor chord, and a ripple of applause passed through the café audience. Encouraged, the pianist played a glittering arpeggio figure on the upper keys, under which he introduced the melody of a popular waltz. A group of people seated near the window began another round of appreciative clapping.

Bruno returned with the coffees and stood to attention with his pencil and notepad.

'The Topfenstrudel,' said Mendel.

'The Rehrücken, please,' said Liebermann.

Mendel stirred the cream into his Pharisäer – which came with a tot of rum – and immediately started to talk about the family textile business. This was not unusual. Indeed, it had become something of a tradition. Profits had risen, and Mendel was thinking of expanding the enterprise: another factory, or even a shop, perhaps. Now that the meddling bureaucrats had lifted the ban on department stores, he could see a future in retail – new opportunities. His old friend Blomberg had already opened a successful department store and had suggested that they might go into partnership. Throughout, Mendel's expression was eager and clearly mindful of his son's reactions.

Liebermann understood why his father kept him so well informed. Although he was proud of Liebermann's academic achievements, he still hoped that one day young Max would step into his shoes.

Mendel's voice slowed when he noticed his son's hand. The fingers seemed to be following the pianist's melody – treating the edge of the table like a keyboard.

'Are you listening?' said Mendel.

'Yes. Of course I'm listening,' Liebermann replied. He had become accustomed to such questioning and could no longer be caught out, as was once the case. 'You're thinking of going into business with Herr Blomberg.'

Liebermann assumed a characteristic position. His right hand – shaped like a gun – pressed against his cheek, the index finger resting gently against the right temple. It was a 'listening' position favoured by many psychiatrists.

'So – what do you think? A good idea?' asked Mendel.

'Well, if the existing department store is profitable, that sounds reasonable enough.'

'It's a considerable investment.'

'I'm sure it is.'

The old man stroked his beard. 'You don't seem to be very keen on the idea.'

'Father, does it matter what I think?'

Mendel sighed.

'No. I suppose not.' His disappointment was palpable.

Liebermann looked away. He took no joy in disappointing his father and now felt guilty. The old man's motives were entirely laudable and Liebermann was perfectly aware that his comfortable standard of living was sustained – at least in part – by Mendel's exemplary management of the family business. Yet he couldn't ever imagine himself running a factory or managing a department store. The idea was ludicrous.

As these thoughts were passing through his mind, Liebermann noticed the arrival of a gentleman in his middle years. On entering the café, the man removed his hat and surveyed the scene. His hair was combed to the side, creating a deep side parting, and his neatly trimmed moustache and beard were almost entirely grey. He received a warm welcome from the head waiter who helped him to take his coat off. He was immaculately dressed in pinstriped trousers, a wide-lapelled jacket and a 'showy' waistcoat. He must have made a quip, because the head waiter suddenly began laughing. The man seemed in no hurry to find a seat and stood by the door, listening intently to the waiter, who now appeared – Liebermann thought – to have started to tell a story.

Mendel saw that his son had become distracted.

'Know him, do you?'

Liebermann turned.

'I'm sorry?'

'Doctor Freud,' said Mendel in a flat voice.

Liebermann was astonished that his father knew the man's identity.

'Yes, I do know him. And it's Professor Freud, actually.'

'Professor Freud, then,' said Mendel. 'But he hasn't been a professor for very long, has he?'

'A few months,' said Liebermann, raising his eyebrows. 'How did you know that?'

'He comes to the lodge.'

'What lodge?'

Mendel scowled.

'B'nai B'rith.'

'Oh yes, of course.'

'Although God knows why. I'm not sure what sort of a Jew he's supposed to be. He doesn't seem to believe in anything. And as for his ideas ...' Mendel shook his head. 'He gave us a talk last year. Scandalous. How well do you know him?'

'Quite well ... We meet occasionally to discuss his work.'

'What? You think there's something in it?'

'The book he wrote with Breuer on hysteria was excellent and The Interpretation of Dreams is ... well, a masterpiece. Of course, I don't agree with everything he says. Even so, I've found his treatment suggestions very useful.'

'Then you must be in a minority.'

'Undoubtedly. But I am convinced that Professor Freud's system – a system that he calls psychoanalysis – will become more widely accepted.'

'Not in Vienna.'

'I don't know. One or two of my colleagues, other junior psychiatrists, are very interested in Professor Freud's ideas.'

Mendel's brow furrowed: 'Some of the things he said last year were obscene. I pity those in his care.'

'I would be the first to admit,' said Liebermann, 'that he has become somewhat preoccupied – of late – with the erotic life of his patients. However, his understanding of the human mind extends well beyond our animal instincts.'

The professor was still standing by the door with the head waiter. He suddenly burst out laughing and slapped his companion on the back. It was clear that the head waiter had just told him a joke.

'Dear God,' said Mendel under his breath, 'I hope he doesn't come this way.' Then he sighed with relief as Professor Freud was ushered to a table beyond their view. Mendel was about to say something else but stopped when Bruno arrived with the cakes.

'Topfenstrudel for Herr Liebermann and Rehrücken for Herr Doctor Liebermann. More coffee?' Bruno gestured towards Mendel's empty glass.

'Yes, why not? A Mélange and another Schwarzer for my son.'

Mendel looked enviously at his son's gateau, a large glazed chocolate sponge cake shaped like a saddle of deer, filled with apricot jam and studded with almonds. His own order was less arresting, being a simple pastry filled with sweet curd cheese.

Liebermann noticed his father's lingering gaze.

'You should have ordered one too.'

Mendel shook his head: 'Pitsch told me I must lose weight.'

'Well, you won't lose weight eating Topfenstrudel.'

Mendel shrugged and took a mouthful of pastry but stopped chewing when a loud thunderclap shook the building. 'It's going to be a bad one,' said Mendel, nodding towards the window. Outside, Vienna had succumbed to a preternatural twilight.

'Maxim,' Mendel continued, 'I wanted to see you today for a reason. A specific reason.'

At last, thought Liebermann. Finally, he was about to discover the true purpose of their meeting. Liebermann braced himself mentally, still unsure of what to expect.

'You probably think it's nothing to do with me,' Mendel added. 'But —' He stopped abruptly and pushed the severed corner of his Topfenstrudel around the plate with his fork.

'What is it, father?'

'I was speaking to Herr Weiss the other day and ...' Again his sentence tailed off. 'Maxim.' This time he returned to his task with greater determination. 'You and Clara seem to be getting along well enough and – understandably, I think – Herr Weiss is anxious to know of your intentions.'

'My intentions?'

'Yes,' said Mendel, looking at his son. 'Your intentions.' He carried on eating his cake.

'I see,' said Liebermann, somewhat taken aback. Although he had considered many subjects that his father might wish to discuss, his relationship with Clara Weiss had not been one of them. Yet now the omission seemed obvious.

'Well,' replied Liebermann. 'What can I say? I like Clara very much.'

Mendel wiped his mouth with a napkin and leaned forwards.


'And ...' Liebermann looked into his father's censorious eyes. 'And ... I suppose that my intention is, in the fullness of time to —' (Now it was his turn to hesitate.)


'To marry her. That is – if she'll have me.'

Mendel relaxed back in his chair. He was clearly relieved and a broad smile lifted his grave features.

'Of course she'll marry you. Why shouldn't she?'

'Sometimes we seem to be ... well, just good friends.' In all areas of life, Liebermann was entirely confident of his powers of perception; however, where Clara was concerned, he was never entirely sure if her affectionate gestures were tokens of love or merely of flirtation. Desire had blunted his clinical acumen. 'It isn't always clear what —'

'You have nothing to worry about,' Mendel interrupted, inclining his hand in a courtly gesture. 'Believe me.' He leaned forward again, and squeezed his son's arm: 'Nothing to worry about at all. Now eat your Rehrücken!'

But Liebermann had no desire to eat. Clara had obviously told her father that she would accept a proposal of marriage. He had nothing to worry about. Liebermann thought of her delicate features: her expressive eyes, small nose, and rose-petal lips – her straight back and slender waist. She was going to be his wife. She was going to be his Clara.

'I won't tell your mother,' continued Mendel. 'I'll leave that to you. She'll be delighted, of course. Delighted. As you know, she's very fond of Clara. In fact, she was saying only the other day how pretty Clara's become. And they're a good family, the Weisses. Good people. Jacob and I go back many, many years. We went to the same school, you know, in Leopoldstadt. And his father helped my father – that's your grandfather – into the trade. They shared a market stall together.'

Liebermann had been told this more times than he cared to remember. Even so, he knew that his father took immense pleasure in reiterating family history, and simulated interest as well as he could. Mendel warmed to his theme, and continued to expound upon the several other links that existed between the Weiss and Liebermann families. The Rehrücken helped Liebermann to survive the repetition. Eventually, when Mendel had exhausted the topic, he attracted Bruno's attention and ordered more coffee and cigars.

'You know, Maxim,' said Mendel, 'with marriage comes much responsibility.'

'Of course.'

'You have to think about the future.'


'Now tell me, will you really be able to provide for a young family on that salary of yours?'

Liebermann smiled at his father. It was extraordinary how Mendel never missed an opportunity.

'Yes,' Liebermann replied patiently. 'In due course, I think I will.'

Mendel shrugged.

'We'll see ...'

The old man managed to sustain his stern expression for a few seconds longer before allowing himself a burst of laughter. Again, he reached over the table, and patted his son on the shoulder.

'Congratulations, my boy.'

The gesture was curiously affecting, and Liebermann recognised that – in spite of their differences – the relationship they shared was predicated on love. His throat felt tight and his eyes prickled. The bustle of the café faded as the two men stared at each other, suspended in a rare and vivid moment of mutual understanding.

'Excuse me,' said Mendel, rising precipitately and setting off towards the cloakroom. But the old man had been too slow. Liebermann had already observed a tear in his eye.

Liebermann watched his father disappear into the bustling Ringstrasse crowd. A gust of wind reminded him that – unlike Mendel – he was not carrying an umbrella. Fortunately, a cab was waiting just outside The Imperial. There was another rumble of thunder – the growl of a discontented minor god. It made the cab horse toss its head, jangle its bridle, and stroke the cobbles with a nervous hoof.


Excerpted from "A Death in Vienna"
by .
Copyright © 2005 Frank Tallis.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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A Death in Vienna (Max Liebermann Series #1) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in fin-de-siecle Vienna, as the story opens, a medium is found dead in her home under strange circumstances, none the least of which include a room locked from the inside and no bullet in her body (with no exit wound) even though she was clearly shot. At first it looks like suicide, from a note that she left behind, but as the main detective furthers his investigation, all signs point to murder. But there are a lot of suspects, most notably the regular circle of people who attended the medium's seances. The police, however, are baffled, so call in a young doctor, Max Liebermann, a budding psychoanalyst in turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna whose attention to detail and ability to catch people up psychologically makes him the perfect assistant. This is the beginning of the Liebermann Papers series, and was published in the US as A Death in Vienna. I would recommend it to people who like historical mysteries and who are perhaps looking for a new mystery series to read. There is a lot of period detail, some of which probably could have been left out to make things flow a bit better, but otherwise it's a fun read.
aadyer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very good introduction to what promises to be a great detective/psychological thriller series. Vienna at the turn of the century and it's hot bed of new theories of the mind is very evocative. Good characterisation,and not predictable at all. Recommended, some what slow in the last third though
Hatsepshut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first volume of the Liebermann Papers. Told by dr Liebermann - a young Vienna doctor facinated by the new ideas of dr Freud, assisting his good friend Inspector Reinhardt of the Vienna Security Office. A well crafted crime whodunnit taking place around the turn of the century (1900). What makes it a very good read, however, for anyone into historical novels - is the feel of Vienna; The coffee houses, the cakes, the new ideas of psychoanalysis, women's rights, advances in medicine - and on a more disturbing note the growing antisemittism.
LisatheLibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Vienna, crime novel, psychoanalysis, detective, police, 20th Century
cyderry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The beginning of this book is somewhat disjointed trying to introduce characters, their relationships at the same time as identify the murder of a well-known physic. If the book had continued to progress in the same manner, I probably would have abandoned it, but once all the factors were in place, the story definitely improved. However, as interesting as the story was, the characters still lacked some dimension.The setting in Vienna around the turn of the century 1900 with Sigmund Freud as a background character was just a part of the draw of this book. This locked door mystery is worth the time even if there was room for improvement.
reannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good novel set in Vienna in the early 20th century. There are two main characters, a psychologist, Max Liebermann and a police detective Oskar Rheinhardt. A medium is murdered in a locked room. Rheinhardt investigates with the help of Lieberman, who counts Sigmund Freud among his acquaintances.Quite enjoyable novel, good characters and plot. I look forward to reading more by Tallis
BooksForDinner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Solid historical fiction set in early 1900s Austria. Fun story... he gets a little showy on the period detail for my taste, but that is always my hangup with historical fiction--the dialogue isn't always realistic when he tries to fit in events of the day/etc, almost forced at times, but a lot of the details are cool, so i wasn't too turned off... plus, i play piano for a living, so all the music references were fun for me... certainly worth a read for the history/mystery buff.
kewing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I started reading A Death in Vienna while in Vienna and enjoyed the local color (despite lapses in spelling). The climax was more than a bit clichèd, but I appreciated the fin de siècle ambiance and attitudes surrounding the mystery and mediums. The pairing of old-school Inspector Reinhardt with radical psychoanalyst Lieberman allows for interesting interactions and perceptions. An enjoyable read, overall, if not a "great" mystery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If this gets published in eBook format !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first of the Max Liebermann's series and yet I am unable to purchase in Nook format. Very very intriguing, much like the story itself, no doubt !
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Thank_God_I_Have_Books More than 1 year ago
Wonderful, smart read. Fans of historical fiction and intelligent crime novels will definitely find this novel to be a great read. An easy to follow story line without too many paths that could make a reader have to "check back" in the story makes this book one that a reader will want to get back to as soon as they can.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this novel. Great background and setting with interesting historical detail.
drwho2 More than 1 year ago
Very well developed characters in a setting I am not familiar with: 1930's Vienna. An excellent mystery. While I don't agree with the author's theology, the story was interesting and I highly recommend it.
Dr_Richard_Kroner More than 1 year ago
If you liked the Third Man with its twists and intrigues featuring the great ferris wheel of Vienna, A Death in Venice is likely to please you. Set at the eve of the Hapsburg downfall, we have what appears to be an impossible murder, a clever detective, a singing psychoanalyst, a host of suspects, some romance, a possible ghost, Freud telling Jewish jokes, and lots of stops to drink coffee and taste the best of Vienna pastry. Geschmuck Gut! The ferris wheel is also featured and (oddly enough) part of the solution to the crime will be familar to anyone who is a fan of the TV show, Myth Busters, which once performed the experiment described near the end of the book that solves the crime. What is also interesting is that the solution is not discovered either by the ingenious detective nor by the singing psychoanalyst but by a potential love interest to our hero doctor. We get a strong flavor of Viennese culture. There is not only the food and drink, but much discussion of music, treatment of mental heath patients (the author is a mental health professional), and even the beginings of the sinister forces of anti-Jewish politics on the rise. The book is a great read. I think you will enjoy it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The_Iceman More than 1 year ago
Turn of the century Vienna ¿ at the time, the social, cultural and scientific centre of a Europe rapidly entering the modern world of the twentieth century ¿ serves as the setting for Frank Tallis¿ debut historical mystery ¿ a provocative, head-scratching locked room mystery. The very deceased and brutally murdered body of the colourful and beautiful medium Fräulein Löwenstein has been found in her apartments ¿ securely locked and bolted from the inside. The puzzle deepens and becomes even more cryptic as an autopsy reveals a gunshot wound to the heart. There is a very clear entrance wound but there is no exit wound and there is also no bullet to be found in her body.

Detective Oskar Rheinhardt, an ardent fan of the newest applications of criminology and psychology, frequently finds himself at odds with his superiors who believe in a more dogged persevering application of older tried and true procedures in the solution of crimes. Rheinhardt and his companion, Max Liebermann, a physician who is also exploring the cutting edge possibilities of his own area of expertise - the developing science of psychoanalysis ¿ believe the murderer can be found among the small group of somewhat eccentric folks that form Fräulein Löwenstein¿s regular séance circle.

To be sure, ¿A Death in Vienna¿ is a very workmanlike, well-constructed and completely entertaining locked room murder mystery but it is also so very much more. It is a wonderfully informative essay on some of the advances in modern medicine that were being developed at that time such as shock therapy, psychoanalysis, blood typing and blood transfusion.

It is an enthusiastic travelogue of what is arguably the most beautiful, charming and exciting city in all of Europe ¿ the coffee shops, the scrumptious, tantalizing pastries, the Ringstrasse, the Opera House and the Musikverein, Karlskirche and Stephansdom, the Riesenrad ferris wheel and Prater Park.

Through Tallis¿ wonderful narrative skills, one can almost imagine hearing the romantic music of the time and admiring its flamboyant composers who were such an important part of the Viennese social and cultural scene at the time ¿ Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert and, in particular, the contentious and controversial Gustav Mahler, who had held the post of the Director of the Vienna Opera since 1897.

Tallis accurately portrays the breathless, often scandalized reaction of the Viennese artistic community to Gustav Klimt¿s racy and often overtly sexual style of painting that was, in only a few years time, to form the core of the Viennese Secessionist movement now celebrated in the Belvedere Palace.

Last but not least, he breathes life into his complex characters who are so credible, so human, so complete and so well-crafted as to turn other more experience and vastly more celebrated authors completely green with envy.

For once, I completely agree with some of the marketing information on the cover. The New York Times Book Review called it an ¿elegant historical mystery ¿ stylishly presented and intelligently resolved.¿ I couldn¿t agree more. Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
Anonymous More than 1 year ago