A Mime, A Trumpet Player, and the First Air Hockey Table

The Quiet TwinThe Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you look at newsreels from the Second World War, it feels like 200 or 300 years have gone by. The very idea of a European country trying to take over all of its neighbors, and then shove millions of the conquered into death camps and eliminate them, without the rest of the world knowing, is simply inconceivable. The World Wide Web has made too much of the world transparent for things like to happen, except perhaps in parts of Africa. Even the Chinese are having a hard time keeping their protesters from making it into the light of the Web.

However, it has only been 74 years since Germany invaded Poland, and one of those most terrifying wars in the world’s history got underway. Only 69 years since the most destructive weapon in history melted away most of two cities. Since then, war has become less dramatic, but more permanent. The surveillance that is possible now makes life safer, yet somehow less diverse.

A case in point is the apartment building where the recently separated Dr. Anton Beer lives in Vienna in 1939. Downstairs from him lives Professor Speckstein, who was acquitted of sexual assault, but who received such disgrace that he resigned his position anyway, lives with his housekeeper and a niece, Zuzka, who has ostensibly come to the city for university but really is at ends about what do with her life.

Across the courtyard is a little girl, Lieschen, who lives with her alcoholic father and has a spinal disorder that makes her stand at an awkward angle. Above them lives Otto Frei, a mime who may or may not have killed Professor Speckstein’s dog, whose twin sister lives in his apartment, slowly rotting in bed because of what may be a neurological disease but may also be psychological trauma — it turns out that she may have been the girl who was sexually assaulted, leading to Professor Speckstein’s trial.

Dr. Beer is enlisted by a Detective Teuben (imagine a hungry, prurient Robert Goren, from Law & Order: Criminal Intent) to help in solving a recent rash of knife murders (including the dog, but also four other people), and he takes on the case of Otto’s twin sister, Eva, moving her into his apartment to cure her of her disease, as psychiatric conditions are his area of interest. He and Zuzka keep an eye on Lieschen, too, as she must monitor when it is safe to go in and spend time with her father, even though she is only nine. It is his discoveries, and his revelations, that show so much, and perhaps so little, about human nature.

Finding out what is, and what is not, true about all of these people, and their situations, is what makes the book compel the reader onward and onward into the labyrinth of life at the dawn of the Second World War inside Hitler’s lands, a labyrinth from which no one would escape unchanged.

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