Book review - Vienna mysteries by Frank Tallis - plus: A digression on American editions
Frank Tallis's Max Liebermann mysteries, set in Vienna, are engaging if at times a little macabre. I have visited Vienna only once in my life, in my early 20s, and I would love to return and explore it more. The historical Vienna holds a powerful fascination for me.
In Tallis's novels and stories, we see the Vienna of the very early 1900s, the time of Sigmund Freud. In fact, his main character Liebermann is a young psychiatrist and a student and follower of Freud. Liebermann also has a number of atypical friendly associations. The main one, for plot purposes, is with a middle-aged inspector of police named Oskar Reinhardt, who consults with him in a way that (unsurprisingly) foreshadows the modern methods of criminal profiling. The other interesting connection is his unrequited lust (which is a strongish word, perhaps, for Max's rather delicate and protective feelings) for a former patient of his, a precocious Englishwoman named Miss Lydgate.
I did not have to look at the author bio on the books to know that Frank Tallis is British and the books first published in Britain, then re-edited as an "American edition." I really disapprove of this practice, but it's too ingrained for me to hope that it will ever go away. So I take a perverse satisfaction when it fails like this. Let me explain.
If an American book is published in the UK, the editors do not go through the book and attempt to sanitize the American spellings for fear of offending or confusing British readers. Readers are expected to know that the national standards for spelling are different, and the idioms, slang and even grammar conventions are different as well. American readers are not afforded the same respect of their intelligence by American editors. Even great classics like Dickens and Austen are subject to this editing, which applies only to the spelling, however, and not to the language choices, except for some of the more obvious word differences. Thus you will see "petrol" changed to "gasoline," but the editors may not be savvy enough to know to change "pavement" to "sidewalk," or "loft" to "attic," probably because pavement and loft are American words as well.
There are two modern grammatical conventions in British English that crop up a lot in books, and that Americans will be shocked to know are acceptable there and even used by quite well-educated Brits. The one I saw twice in the latest Frank Tallis is the back-construction "disorientated." British people in turn would be shocked and dismayed to know just how illiterate that sounds to an American. The other one, though less common, is even worse to the American ear - the "was sat" and "am/are/is sat" construction. For instance, a Brit will say "I was sat there for half an hour" even if s/he was sitting there waiting for an interview as an English teacher or editor.