Vienna, 1948. The war is over, and as the initial phase of de-Nazification winds down, the citizens of Vienna struggle to rebuild their lives amidst the rubble.
Anna Beer returns to the city she fled nine years earlier after discovering her husband's infidelity. She has come back to find him and, perhaps, to forgive him. Traveling on the same train from Switzerland is 18-year-old Robert Seidel, a schoolboy summoned home to his stepfather's sickbed and the secrets of his family's past.
As Anna and Robert navigate an unrecognizable city, they cross paths with a war-widowed American journalist, a hunchbacked young servant girl, and a former POW whose primary purpose is to survive by any means and to forget. Meanwhile, in the shells of burned-out houses and beneath the bombed-out ruins, a ghost of a man, his head wrapped in a red scarf, battles demons from his past and hides from a future deeply uncertain for all.
The Crooked Maid: A Novel by Dan Vyleta
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The story revolves around a couple of murders in post-war Vienna, when many POWs are making their ways home from prison camps.
I started this book with the idea that it was a murder-mystery - it is, but the story doesn't adhere to the traditional format of a murder-mystery. The book revolves around human nature, murder just being a by-product of community. In the acknowledgements, the author admits to paying homage to Dostoevsky and Dickens; I'm inclined to agree.
The book never lets readers escape the effects of WWII - the war shades every word, description, and habit. The characters are as scarred as their city. That being said, a lot of the prose slips into past tense, which makes for some very dry reading.
The plot is slow to start, with a lot of time taken to describe the setting and introduce characters - this won't bother history buffs but may turn off some readers.
The strange twists in the narrative-format kept me in the dark until Vyleta was ready to tell me what I needed to know for the story to progress. I gave up trying to guess the end about half-way through the book; I admit, the end wasn't what I expected.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.
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