The Fig Eater

The Fig Eater by Jody Shields. Although there are many similarities between Shields’ mystery set in 1900 Vienna and Frank Tallis’ series featuring psychologist Dr. Max Liebermann and Detective Oskar Rheinhardt, ultimately Shields’ story of the murder of a young girl suffers by comparison. Shield’s unnamed Inspector, a devotee of the rationalist criminology teachings of Hans Gross (frequently quoted in the book), soon discovers a web of lies, sex and blackmail bonding the dead girl’s family with another local household. However, he can’t find the key clue to solve the case. His Hungarian wife, who is more a spiritualist with close ties to Gypsy mysticism, conducts an investigation of her own, gaining access to evidence and witnesses that elude her husband. This dual perspective to the case is interesting, but Shields’ writing style is quite stiff and cold. At times it feels like you’re reading the case notes written by the Inspector and this lack of warmth makes it difficult to connect with any of the characters. On the positive side, Shields, like Tallis, takes great care to describe the streets, parks and eateries of Vienna. Where Tallis spends considerable time detailing sounds, especially the Viennese music scene, Shields focuses on smells. Perfumes, food, plants, cigars and chemicals all contribute to the development of the author’s sense of Vienna.

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