Vienna, 1904. The body of a man—still sitting in a chair—is discovered in an abandoned piano factory on the outskirts of the city. He has been shot dead but his face has been horribly disfigured with acid, making identification impossible. In front of the body are three chairs positioned conspicuously in a straight line. Who were the former occupants? Had they sat in judgement and pronounced a sentence of death? Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt calls on his good friend, Doctor Max Liebermann—psychiatrist and disciple of Sigmund Freud—to assist in an investigation that draws them both into the shadowy and sexually unconventional world of fringe political activism.
A prologue describing the assassination of Empress Elizabeth of Austria in Geneva in 1898 casts an ominous shadow over the events of Edgar-finalist Tallis's gripping seventh mystery featuring psychiatrist Max Liebermann (after 2012's Death and the Maiden). In Vienna in 1904, an unidentified male body is found in an abandoned piano factory, shot through the head and seated on a chair in front of three other chairs. Liebermann believes that the furniture's deliberate arrangement indicates that the man's execution was ordained by three people sitting in judgment, possibly for the violation of a secret society's rules. The corpse's webbed feet and scars lead to his identification as Angelo Callari, an Italian who recently arrived in the city, where he joined a society promoting international comity and the better treatment of the poor. Callari also has links to those who pose a threat to the Austrian throne. Series fans will be pleased to see Liebermann has a new love-interest, Amelia Lydgate, a former patient who injects some humor into the otherwise grim tale. Readers will hope they won't have to wait another six years for Liebermann's next outing.