Vienna 1903. Outside one of the city's most splendid baroque churches the decapitated body of a monk is found. Then, the remains of a municipal councillor are discovered in the grounds of another church - his head also ripped from his body. Both men were rabid anti-Semites and suspicions fall on Vienna's close-knit community of Hassidic Jews. In a city riven by racial tensions and extremism, the situation is potentially explosive.
Detective Inspector Rheinhardt turns to his trusted friend, the young psychoanalyst Doctor Max Liebermann, for assistance. As the investigation progresses, Liebermann is drawn into the world of Jewish mysticism. Amid the atmosphere of threat and fear, Liebermann's life is in crisis. Political forces conspire against him, and the object of his romantic desires, the unreachable Miss Lydgate, is becoming an unhealthy obsession.