February 3, 2012 10:22 pm

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Curious characters and a sinuous plot set the tone for this novel that examines the anxious social milieu of Nazi Vienna in 1939
 

The Quiet Twin, by Dan Vyleta, Bloomsbury RRP£7.99, 384 pages

After his wry debut of espionage in austere, postwar Berlin, Dan Vyleta’s confident second novel explores the anxious social milieu of Nazi Vienna in 1939. Professor Speckstein, a disgraced academic and Nazi informer, coerces his affable neighbour Dr Beer into investigating local murders – including the butchery of his pet hound. But Zuzka, Speckstein’s nervous and excitable niece, is pursuing her own inquiry into the fate of the family pooch.

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Zuzka’s naive snooping twitches the curtains of the tenement’s variously seedy inhabitants, most of whom – the Japanese trumpeter, the nightclub mime artist, the janitor with a bath full of blood, and Beer himself – are keen to avoid Nazi attention. Vyleta skilfully builds this into a boisterous, darkly comic climax. Curious characters and a sinuous plot that holds the subtlest resonance of the dithering and political malaise of Hamlet give this mild-mannered novel a sharp edge. Vyleta’s command of period adds to the uneasy tone.

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