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The Luzern Photograph is a mesmerizing read

The Luzern Photograph: A noir thriller

by William Bayer

Severn House

Pub Date Jan 1, 2016


In this fascinating psychological neo-noir mystery, a notorious late 19th-century photograph provides the key to a contemporary murder.

In 1882, the young Lou Andreas-Salome, writer, psychoanalyst and femme fatale, appears with Friedrich Nietzche and another man in a bizarre photograph taken in Luzern, Switzerland. Over thirty years later, an intense art student in Freud’s Vienna presents Lou Salome with his own drawing based on the infamous photograph.

In the present day, Tess Berenson, a brilliant performance artist, moves into an art deco loft in downtown Oakland, California. Her new apartment, she learns, was vacated in a hurry by a professional dominatrix who used the name Chantal Desforges. Tess’s curiosity about Chantal intensifies when her body is discovered in the trunk of a stolen car at Oakland airport.

Embarking on an obsessive investigation into the murder, Tess discovers a link to the original Luzern photograph and the 1913 drawing – but as she gets closer to the shocking truth, Tess finds that she too is in jeopardy.


The Luzern Photograph is a mesmerizing tale that stirs the imagination and lingers on the mind. It is not one story but three interwoven tales of women, each similar, but distinctly different - an early 20th Century writer and psychoanalyst, a professional dominatrix who heals through psychological trauma, and a performance artist who reflects what she perceives in monologues. They are united by obsession and a historical enigma, the Luzern Photograph, an image depicting Lou Andreas-Salome whip in hand sitting in a chariot harnessed to Neitzche and Ree.

One obsessed with the other, and the last obsessed with both. Each is a powerful woman driven by inspiration and lover of performance.

The novel is a mystery, but not a standard one. Although there is a murder, it does not take center stage. The author tantalizes the reader, revealing bits of her tale at a time, alternating between Lou Andreas-Salome and Tess the performance artist. History is deftly interwoven with present action in much the same way it is within the play that Tess writes based on her experiences and what she discovers in her exploration of Chantal's life and that of Lou Andreas-Salome.

William Bayer is a masterful writer, and The Luzern Photograph is an incredibly compelling piece of literature. It is difficult to describe the elegant complexity of the plot, or the skill with which Bayer mingles philosophy and Freudian psychoanalysis.

If it was possible to give the novel more than 5 stars, I would.


The Luzern Photograph is available for preorder and will be released December

I received a copy of The Luzern Photograph from the publisher and in exchange for an honest review.


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