Riveting story ramped up by spectre of Nazis

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The Quiet Twin

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/02/2011 (4207 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Quiet Twin

By Dan Vyleta

HarperCollins, 284 pages, $30

THE foreigner, the loner, the imperfect — all are suspects in this gripping murder thriller, set in Vienna just after the German juggernaut has begun to roll across Europe.

Dan Vyleta, the author of Pavel and I, a post-Second World War spy intrigue, has written a riveting story with twists, turns and tension that is ramped up by the spectre of the growing Nazi terror.

It adds a frightening dimension to the lives of residents of a rundown apartment building, who learn about each other by watching through windows in the centre courtyard and peering through doorways in the stairwell. Curtains are drawn and doors slipped shut as neighbours hide secrets that could spell their doom under the New Order.

With delicate and ironic prose, Vyleta draws pictures of the dystopia that has become everyday, a presage of the brutality yet to come. Anton Beer, a young doctor, tiptoes through the broken furniture and shattered glass of a recently burned-out household. He “wondered for a moment what the neighbours made of this gutted building, then reminded himself that they were the same people who had witnessed (it) and done nothing. People like him.”

Events are complicated when Beer makes a startling discovery in one of the apartments. An emaciated woman, paralyzed and mute, stares out at him from a filthy bed.

Eva is pure, but her twin brother, a mime, is a summary of sin — a muscular, menacing lout whose his whiteface enables him to make crude political jabs at drunken Fascists. Yet he refuses to take Eva to the hospital. “I’ve heard stories,” he says of the Nazi treatment of the disabled.

Beer takes Eva in and tries to keep control over what goes on in his apartment. She is another secret to conceal. But there is no safety in a world where evil is a growing infection. Rumours become truth, paranoia prevails, chaos looms.

Vyleta’s characters make split-second decisions that test their humanity and decide their momentary survival. Strangers living in the same building are thrown into taking measures they would never have considered previously yet pretend that they are adjusting to the “new normal.”

They must trust each other while they expect betrayal and plan their next move. Vyleta describes their fear and stealth, their calculations and fated errors as they try to keep out of the hands of two different kinds of monsters. Beer’s investigation culminates in a surprising climax.

Vyleta grew up in Germany and now lives in Eastern Canada. A historian, he has also written Crime, Jews, and News, Vienna 1895-1914, which examines criminal cases and anti-Semitism at the turn of the last century.

He clearly understands the nature of the people and the tenor of the times. Innocence and cunning, humour and pathos, sacrifice and cruelty — all operate side by side in a world gone wrong in this believable, breathtaking page-turner.

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg.

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