This is a novel I wrote in 2008/2009 and which I decided should be my debut novel—now available as eBook at Amazon. It is an existentialist novel set in contemporary Vienna. The main character, Annie Hix, an intellectual of high social standing, admits to the murder of an old woman when all indications point to an accident. The story traces the criminal psychological investigation of the case before and after the trial, as its characters struggle to figure out what constitutes truth in a society dominated by media sensationalism and moral relativism.
Below an extract:
It was the period of the heat waves.
On August 10, the highest temperature ever measured was recorded in the United Kingdom. On the same day, temperatures on the Continent raged past the 40 degree Celsius mark leading to a mass exodus from the cities. Those left behind had to fight with recurring power outages caused by the dramatic surge in the use of air-conditioning. The number of casualties among the elderly rose exponentially, with several dying alone in their homes only to be discovered weeks later by their children or neighbors returning from holiday. Those who made it to the hospital with major circulation problems did not fare much better due to understaffing. In some countries, better emergency health care provisions were subsequently announced and there was talk about the nagging decline of mores within social institutions. But the debates were half-hearted and short-lived and no one was seriously bothered. Then, at the beginning of September, just as the weather began to take a turn for the better and as families got ready for the start of the school year, news broke about a strange incident that had occurred in Austria. Allegedly, a murder had taken place under the influence of the heat wave. Suddenly everybody talked about nothing else. When a young man stabbed Anna Lind, the Swedish foreign minister and staunch supporter of the European Union, a week later, and she was dead within hours, no one seemed to take notice.
Earlier that year, following the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, I had decided to take a sabbatical from Boston University and move to Vienna where I originally was from. It was a decision motivated by my ambivalence about the war: on the one hand, I had found Colin Powel’s UN speech convincing even though I was not a Republican and thought little of the Bush doctrine; on the other hand, my apprehension about American politics since 9/11 was growing every day. It was difficult to describe what I felt precisely. It had something to do with my inability to form an opinion about what was going on: the war in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, against terrorism, supposedly for democracy yet under the reactionary banner of a clash of civilizations—it was strange and absurd simultaneously. That I was not alone with these feelings made me even more nervous.
As a criminal psychologist specializing in profiling and a scholar of the social psychology of crime, I felt I ought to know better. I had spent my life doing research to show that behavioral transgressions, including violent crimes, are not inherently complex, on the contrary, what often triggers deviant behavior is best described as a short circuit. Accordingly, I had used my research to argue in favor of a liberal and humane approach to both incarceration and reintegration policy. In the environment of panic and insecurity unleashed by 9/11, my approach appeared naive and desperately ambiguous and I was beginning to have serious doubts about its pertinence. For the first time in my life I felt displaced. America had been my home ever since I had left Vienna in the early nineteen eighties to take up a university post in Chicago and then, a few years later, in Boston. In fact, till recently I felt more American than Austrian, also as a result of the gradual rise of the extreme right wing in my country of origin. In 2000, when the Austrian Freedom Party entered into a coalition government with the conservative People’s Party, I even briefly considered applying for American citizenship. I probably would have had it not been for my discomfort with all the symbolism involved in the act of pledging allegiance and loyalty to a nation. Now, I no longer was sure about anything, least of all my place in American society.
It was not difficult to convince my wife, Catherine. She too was looking for a change and was keen to meet Hannah, my surrogate mother and the only person from my past I was still attached to. Hannah had recently turned seventy and was no longer very mobile. Traveling to the US for a visit as she had a couple of years ago was not really an option. It was our turn, Catherine said. A prolonged break would do us both good.
You can read the book on Kindle or on computer / tablet using any of the Free Kindle Reading Apps. Available at amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.de, amazon.fr etc. Comments, reviews, feedback, as always, welcome.
Later this year: a collection of short stories, two novellas and a second novel.