Not just one, but two seriously page-turning Krimis from the German-speaking world have crossed my path recently.
Woman of the Dead (Totenfrau, trans. Anthea Bell/Orion 2015), by Austrian writer Bernhard Aichner, features an unforgettable heroine/anti-heroine, the motorbike-riding undertaker Brünhilde Blum. She is a woman with a secret, who, when her beloved husband is killed, starts dealing with the case in a highly individual way. This fast-moving thriller is an extremely readable mash-up of Austrian and American crime. Its setting is recognizably Austrian (Innsbruck and the Tyrolean countryside), and its bleak assessment of Austrian society echoes other crime narratives such as Elfriede Jelinek’s Greed (Gier, 2000). At the same time, the book draws on Lindsay’s Dexter, Tarantino’s Kill Bill (‘the bride’) and Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Lisbeth Salander) – influences that might allow it to be viewed as ‘feminist noir’, the subject of this recent The Mary Sue post. I was gripped from start to finish, although I did find the novel’s moral framework and its call to empathize with a killer rather unsettling at times. I’ll be very interested to see where the next book in the ‘Blum trilogy’, House of the Dead, takes our highly unusual investigator. You can read an extract from Woman of the Dead here.
Sascha Arango’s The Truth and Other Lies (Die Wahrheit und andere Lügen, trans. Imogen Taylor/Simon and Schuster 2015) is equally compelling and features another off-the-wall protagonist, Henry Hayden – a famous novelist whose comfortable life begins to unravel after he makes a fatal error. Hayden is a darkly comic creation whose story involves a wife, a mistress and a floundering police team, and keeps the reader effortlessly engaged throughout. Intriguingly, even though Arango is a screenwriter for the German TV crime series Tatort, which has a strongly regional flavour, his novel has an international rather than a specifically German feel. The characters’ names sound English, American, German, Dutch, Swedish or eastern European and there are barely any discernible geographical markers. In literary terms, the obvious influence is Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, but I was also reminded of Ingrid Noll’s blackly humorous novel The Pharmacist (Die Apothekerin, 1994), whose protagonist carries out a series of crimes to smooth her way to a prosperous middle-class life. Like the latter, Arango’s Truth is a stylish, witty and entertaining read. You can listen to an audio extract here.
Both Bernhard Aichner and Sascha Arango will be appearing at the Deutschi Crime Night at Waterstones Piccadilly next Thursday, 11th June at 7.00pm, with Barry Forshaw (moderating), Anthea Bell the translator, Charlotte Ryland from ‘New Books in German’ and yours truly. The event is FREE and all you need to do if you’d like to come along is RSVP email@example.com. You can find out more info here. Should be lots of fun!
I really like the sound of these out-of-the-ordinary characters, Mrs. P. There’s a delicate balance, I always think, between creating characters who are interesting and different on the one hand, and creating characters who push credibility too far. Thanks, as ever, for the terrific reviews.
You’re welcome, Margot! Blum and Hayden are definitely very unusual protagonists and I agree with you about that delicate balance and needing to maintain credibility. The other very tricky thing is how to maintain the reader’s identification with or connection to a character who may not be that likable or who does things that step over the normal boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour. You have to be made of pretty stern stuff as an author to pull that off.
The Truth and Other Lies. This book sounds such fun and I thank you for bringing it to my notice!
You’re welcome, Christine. It is fun, but with a very dark edge… You have been warned 🙂
Well, I can never resist an Austrian connection, so I am looking forward to reading that one after my self-imposed book-buying ban is over. And the other one too. I’d love to come to that event, sadly a bit too far from over here in Geneva.
Will be interested to see what you think, MarinaSofia! Shame Geneva to London is a bit of a stretch for one night. Fingers crossed that we get to meet at some point down the line…
1. I loved that Mary Sue piece about feminist noir. 2. Both of these books sound great! I haven’t tracked down US publication dates, but I’m sure I can get my hands on copies when I’ve cleared up a bit of my TBR shelves.
Best of luck at the Waterstone’s event!
Good article, eh? I’m pretty sure both novels will make it over the pond to you – just a question of having enough space on that TBR pile, as you say! And thanks – should be fun.
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Thanks for these Mrs. P. I am doing an around world challenge and your Namibia reccomend ‘ The hour of the jackal’ was a great find. I will definitely look for these books. I am just finishing ‘S now white must die’ and enjoying it, another very good German series. I
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