Frank Tallis, The Forbidden (2012)

I don’t read much horror or supernatural, so I was delighted to venture there with a writer I trust and have enjoyed in a totally different genre.

I have followed all 6 Viennese mysteries written by Frank Tallis (with psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Max Lieberman and his friend Inspector Rheinhardt), and while I do hope for more, I can understand that a writer may want to do something else.

Mmh… The truth is that I didn’t really get over it yet. The whole time I was in Vienna for holidays, I was hoping Tallis would soon publish a new Liebermann mystery. Grieving for a reader is tough.

Anyway, this book can’t be more different from the Viennese mysteries! Set in Paris in the 1870s, right after the bloody Commune, the Forbidden is centered on the character of Dr. Paul Clément, an ambitious and often flawed character. During a short stint in a tropical mission hospital, he witnesses weird events linked to Haitian voodoo and comes back haunted and doubtful about what he saw, while remaining an ambitious young doctor at heart. Back in Paris he gets interested in electrical resuscitation and moves into Charcot’s circle. In one of his resuscitation attempts on himself, he has a near-death experience that brings him… to Hell and back. Literally.

Except that he doesn’t come back alone.

(the description of his visions lasts a few pages and is not recommended for the faint-hearted who have a visual imagination) This twist that I didn’t quite expect (yes, I knew it was supernatural from the cover description, but not quite as literal as this) confirmed very much that Tallis was going for a whole new genre, much darker and much more gothic than his previous books.

I will not go into the remaining plot, but rest assured that, should you choose to read on, you’ll have to deal with demoniac possession, priestly exorcism against the backdrop of Notre Dame and something that strongly evokes Linda Blair. I haven’t watched any of these movies (I’m such a softy!), so I can’t really judge, but to me there was also a strong whiff of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is a big favorite of mine.

I didn’t quite “enjoy” the pages of exorcism per se. Pregnancy is probably not the best time to have this kind of reading anyway. But I enjoyed the uncertainty of madness vs. rationality, of century-old beliefs vs. new science and psychiatry. The historical backdrop was, as always with Tallis, quite carefully thought out and believable, and the many literary and cultural references that Tallis always sprinkles in his plots made this book quite an enjoyable experience.

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3 thoughts on “Frank Tallis, The Forbidden (2012)

  1. I have lost patience with Tallis’s Vienna novels. I enjoyed the first two or three but then found that there was too much psychology creeping in and slowing down the plot for my taste. However, if you’re interested in why Tallis made the move into horror he was talking about it on Sunday’s ‘Open Book’ on BBC Radio 4 and you should be able to pick up the podcast from either the website or I-Tunes.

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