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Intrigue and more (novel set in Vienna, Austria)

5th May 2014

The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta, novel set in Vienna.

1408827832.01.ZTZZZZZZVienna, 1948 – the War had ended, and the Cold War is beginning. Vienna is a very different city to that which it was ten years’ previously… largely in ruins with much destroyed. Two people heading back to the city meet on a train from Switzerland – Anna Beer to perhaps reconcile with her husband who has been in a Soviet POW camp while she spent the War in Paris, and the young and innocent Robert Seidel who has just left school in Switzerland and is returning to see his mother and brother.

Robert finds his father dead and his brother, Wolfgang, on a murder charge (from which he is later, somewhat questionably, exonerated). His mother has become a drug addict and they live with the hunchbacked (but attractive to Robert) Eva – the crooked maid of the title – and Poldi, Wolfgang’s pregnant wife.

Anna returns to her apartment and finds evidence of recent occupation – though no occupiers in evidence until Karel, a vast and bumbling drunk appears and lets himself in with a key… claiming he had been give it by Anna’s husband with whom he says he was in the POW camp.

The third strand of the story concerns the Jewish Rothman family with whom Seidel senior did a deal at the beginning of the War – to buy outright both the factory they jointly owned and the apartment the Seidels live in, with the consideration that they could re-purchase either at any time in the future. Is the family dead or alive – are the communications the Seidels receive from them genuine, or not?

These three very different stories – Wolfgang’s trial, Anna’s search for her husband, and the Rothman mystery – are all bound together by Eva. I will say no more!

At one level, The Crooked Maid, is an exciting and suspenseful tale of intrigue and double dealing in a city recovering from the War. But it is a great deal more than this – it is a BIG book with BIG characters. Vyleta captures the feel of a dark and foreboding city and its shadowy inhabitants. All the main characters have wartime experiences (Wolfgang, for example, was a Gestapo officer…) from which they are trying to run or pretend did not exist. The book is like a Russian novel in its scope.

I honestly found the book a tad confusing as I read it, and found inclusions which I did not think added anything to the story. But (and it’s a big but…) the story has returned to me several times in the days since I finished it – it is a work that is very definitely thought provoking and draws you in.

I would recommend it.

Tony for the TripFiction Team

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