It's 1939 in Nazi-occupied Vienna and the residents of an apartment building are uneasy. One resident, retired Professor Speckstein is obviously spying on other residents for the Nazis, which has everyone being very careful about their actions. When Speckstein's dog is murdered, he asks Dr. Beer, a general physician with a background in forensic psychology to help investigate. This brings Dr. Beer closer with Speckstein's niece Zuzka who believes herself sick even though she is not, Anneliese a young girl with a humpback and drunk father, and Otto Frei the mime.
All of these characters' stories interweave and when Dr. Beer learns that Frei is keeping his twin sister in his house who is completely paralyzed, Dr. Beer offers to help. This means he has to keep her presence in his apartment secret, which is hard to do when he's helping with an investigation and the police come visit him.
The pressure of the Nazis is felt by all and is reflected in most character's interactions. The story is a rather grim one, and with the constant cloud of being watched by the Nazis hanging over everyone, it makes things even more depressing. Vyleta did an excellent job painting a dark picture and when I imagined the characters and their surroundings, there was rarely any colour.
Some of the aspects of the story did not make sense to me. For example, why would the police go to Dr. Beer to ask for help. Surely outside help was not asked for in a case like this? It also seemed that Dr. Beer's practice took a back seat to everything. These didn't really bother me while I was reading the book but once I was finished and thought back over the book I found these didn't make sense.
Vyleta gives you just enough to want to continue reading and keeps pulling back the layers one by one so the reader can learn more about the characters and what exactly is going on. The ending is completely satisfactory and for the most part, all the characters get exactly what they deserve.
First Line: "When Peter Kürten was but a young boy, he would watch his uncle attend to the slaughter of dogs."