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Book Reviews   |    
The Quiet Twin

by Dan Vyleta; New York, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012, 384 pages, $16

Reviewed by Rory P. Houghtalen, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2012; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.631208
View Author and Article Information

Dr. Houghtalen is medical director of the Education and Mental Health Ambulatory Services, Unity Health System, Unity Behavioral Health, Rochester, New York.

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The Quiet Twin was an intense summer read. This macabre book is both hard to describe and hard to put down. It is by measures a very well-written murder (or should I say murders) mystery and a commentary on the human potential for both great evil and redemption. At once thought provoking and creepy, it may be better read in front of a roaring fire on a cold and rainy night than on a sunny beach. The setting is 1939 Vienna during the buildup to World War II. A mishmash of eccentric characters inhabits the tight quarters of an ancient apartment building. The neighborhood is reacting to the gruesome killing of a dog and a series of murders while the National Socialist Party is slowly strengthening its grip on the fabric of society and paving the path to the Final Solution. No one is beyond suspicion. No one can really be trusted.

Dr. Beers, a young general practitioner with some experience in the new methods of psychoanalysis, is naively caught up in a web of intrigue and danger by Zuzka, a beguiling young woman with conversion symptoms who whiles away sleepless nights observing the suspicious behaviors of their mutual neighbors from her bedroom window. Together they take increasing risks to uncover the truth, convinced that Zuzka has discovered clues to solve these heinous crimes while she tries to seduce the good doctor.

A cast of characters straight out of a Dickens novel populates a narrative that reads like a Tim Burton version of Hitchock’s Rear Window. A hardscrabble janitor makes sausage (or something bloody) in a bathtub in the basement of the complex. A hunchbacked girl, whose father drinks too much, may know too much. A mime who works at a seedy cabaret on the wrong side of town exposes himself at his window after work and could be holding a woman prisoner in his apartment. A Japanese trumpet player living in the turret of the building is often heard, seldom seen, and naturally a source of suspicion. Nazi Party members, including a professor driven from his medical practice by accusations of child rape and a detective too eager to abuse power, are each important players in the tale. Revealing too much here would spoil the surprising twists of fact and fate that led me further into the intrigue of the story. Do not expect a happy ending.

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

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