In Death and the Maiden: A Max Liebermann Mystery, psychologist Frank Tallis explores Sigmund Freud’s Vienna.
What led you into psychology?
I have always been fascinated with the human mind. Moreover, I wanted to do something useful with my life. Clinical psychology seemed to be an appropriate career. It gave me opportunities to undertake scientific research and offer people help—a combination that I found very satisfying.
How does that connect with writing mystery fiction?
A lot of mystery fiction concerns itself with the darker side of human psychology and psychopathology. My interest in it is really just an extension of my academic and professional interests. I had the idea of writing a psychoanalytic detective series. And if you have that idea, there’s only one place to set it: Freud’s Vienna.
Is there a common theme in your mystery, horror, and science fiction?
I think all of my fiction is, to a greater or lesser extent, psychological. I tend to choose medical or psychiatric settings. I also tend to feature psychopathology and altered states of consciousness. The shared theme of the Liebermann books is multiculturalism. Vienna in 1900 was an extraordinary experiment in multiculturalism. It has a lot in common with present-day London, where I live.
Is the musical bond between your two leads, psychologist Max Liebermann and detective Oskar Reinhardt, a conscious parallel to that between Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin?
Vienna then was a very musical city. Opera singers were recognized by cab drivers. I was certainly aware of Patrick O’Brian, and perhaps his work did influence me at one level. That said, I think the Vienna setting demanded a musical bond between Liebermann and Rheinhardt, and I would have got there eventually, with or without knowledge of Patrick O’Brian.
What in your research into Vienna at this time was the most surprising?
Its enormous cultural and historical significance. One could argue that modernity as we know it today was a Viennese phenomenon. Schoenberg, Musil, Klimt, Schiele, Mahler—the list is endless and touches all areas of human endeavor. Moreover, the ideologues and idealists more or less set the global political agenda for the next hundred years. National Socialism and Zionism were both “born” in Vienna.
And what have you learned about Freud?
The most common misconception of Freud is that he was a very serious man. This was an image he cultivated assiduously. He made a point of never smiling in photographs to give the impression of severity and “greatness.” In fact, he was extremely sociable, and loved telling jokes. He collected Jewish jokes as a hobby. He was actually a little like Groucho Marx!