Poor old Max – in this final part of this brief series, while his career as a police consultant flourishes, his engagement has collapsed and his medical career is in peril – can the case of a dead army cadet pull his strudel out of the fire?
Family matters rear their head in The Lost Child, as the Liebermanns are shocked when Max announces the engagement to Clara is off, then horrified when Max’s nephew Daniel slashes his wrist. (Max talks about ‘self-harm’ – we’re sure that term wasn’t coined in that era.)
Now, we didn’t even know that Max’s nagging sister Leah had a son, or indeed a husband -– we learn now that he was a soldier, killed in action, and that’s why his son Daniel was sent to a military academy, St Florian’s.
At least the family gathering is the first time we’ve seen a decent bit of Viennese cake, an Esterhazy Torte or similar – it’s been a long time coming, considering Vienna’s reputation as the cake capital of the world. It’s just a pity Daniel chooses to cut his wrist with the cake knife. What psychological trauma drove him to it, though? Max invents a picture game (actually, or course, it’s the Rorschach inkblot test, invented by Hermann Rorschach in the 1920s) to draw out the traumatised Daniel.
On investigating Daniel’s military academy, Max finds signs that Daniel has been abused – more worryingly, another cadet is missing. The starchy commandant, Reisinger says the boy Zelenka has drowned, but dopey Inspector Von Bulow (a former student) apparently bungled the investigation, and there’s been no proper autopsy. When Max realises that Daniel had cut a Z into his arm, and finds coded messages in Daniel’s things, has he stumbled onto a conspiracy?
The cadets are up to something creepy to do with scars on their hands, and suspects include artistic housemaster Lang, Reichsinger’s factotum Becker, and brutal cadet Wolf. Surely this is all to do with some sort of initiation ceremony gone wrong? Lang shows the detectives a hidden crypt, and when another cadet gets a coded message, it’s time for another brutal initiation.
Inevitably, Max finds an excuse to visit the bewitching Amelia, who gave him the bum’s rush last week – news of the end of his engagement and his outpourings of love don’t move her much, but she’s so tightly wound it would be difficult to imagine any other response. His request for Amelia’s pathology help with the case leads to an exquisitely embarrassing tea with his family and Clara.
In the end, a nosey cadet reveals he’s seen a love-letter (written for some reason in English, as, bafflingly, is the school prayer, which Max realises this is the key to the coded messages), and it all turns out to have been about chemistry teacher Becker slowly poisoning Zelenka, who he believed planned to run off with his daughter. The cadets unwittingly covered his crime when they chased Zelenka to his death. When Max and Oskar raid a final initiation ceremony, Wolf is revealed as the ringleader, but Becker is the real baddie, particularly because he had the wrong victim – the real seducer of his daughter was housemaster Lang. Becker runs for it, but takes a header off the beautifully ornamented clock tower.
There’s lots of psychobabble about childhood, adult responsibility, Lord of the Flies-style pack mentality, and the nature of love; Max and Oskar bond over a game of snooker, and there are bits of sub-plot about Oskar and von Bulow competing for their boss’s job – Oskar doesn’t get it after the messy ending of the case, not surprising as his boss turns out to be a pupil of St Florian’s too. And Oskar’s wife returns to help him resolve his grief for their lost child, but his hopes that she might stay end in disappointment.
Equally unfortunately, Max is suspended for giving Amelia access to the morgue – so he may have to make his part time consulting job more permanent.
Apparently, we’ve been missing lots of musical references in Vienna Blood – the title itself is a waltz by Strauss, and characters have been named after local composers. Other than that, there’s not been a terrific amount of depth to the series – a straight cross between Sherlock Holmes, Ripper Street and The Mentalist, it’s sometimes been hard to look past the formula to enjoy the workmanlike job, great photography and easy chemistry between the leads.
Considering there were only three episodes, it seems to have fallen into a formula pretty quickly – each week, Max sees through the obvious to the psychological motivations, Oskar grouches but comes through for Max, Clara grizzles that she isn’t getting enough attention, Max’s family shake their heads in despair, and Amelia provides forensic help while keeping her bloomers firmly starched.
We wouldn’t mind another series – there are four more Frank Tallis novels to adapt – but we could do with a bit more innovation and a bit more fire in the belly. And cake. Yes, lots more cake.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW OF VIENNA BLOOD
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE TWO REVIEW OF VIENNA BLOOD