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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.

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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