Winner German Crime Prize 2017 (2nd place)
Translated from German by Rachel Ward
I know I’m stretching the term “noir” in this series of reviews, basically using it as an all-embracing term for any German crime novel, translated into English and published in 2018, but that’s not true in this case. Simone Buchholz’s novel is as noir as a novel entitled Blue Night can be …
… the prologue opening with a man being beaten black and blue … having every bone in his body smashed to pieces and his right index finger cut-off. Described from the victim’s point-of-view. So this is what it’s like, he says. Indeed. So now I know.
Pan from scene of extreme violence and into the life of Chastity Riley, a state prosecutor who has been demoted. Not for incompetence, but for creating some very unwelcome waves in a previous case. (A case, I assume, was the focus of an earlier novel in the series. Blue Night is actually the 6th, even if it is the 1st to be translated into English.) Riley’s first assignment in witness protection brings her into the orbit of the victim of the violent opening scene. Her job is to find out what she can, but he is staying stumm …
She has to earn his trust, which she does by feeding him cigarettes and beer. Still he’s a tough nut to crack, and it’s not until the half-way point that he gives her a clue that sends her to Leipzig searching for a certain kind of crocodile.
Yes, I said half-way point. Not much is happening, apart from her talking to the unknown man and a lot of exposition about her life and her circle of friends, including Kratsche, her boyfriend who owns the Blue Night club. Following too much detail about what happens in the club’s cellar, I confess I was on the point of bailing-out. But once Chastity gets on the road to Leipzig the pace picks up and the second half whizzes by. I even found myself enjoying the intermezzos, if I may call them that. These are short sections in which a selection of characters, both coppers and criminals, key to the action at that point, tell their back histories or explain what has been happening off the Chastity Riley pages so to speak. At first I found them pretty disorientating ( not knowing who was who) and then I accepted that they were an effective means to keeping the page count down and the novel as brief and noirish as those of Buchholz’s role model, Raymond Chandler.
There’s a long character list, but perhaps the most important is the city of Hamburg itself, the place Buchholz calls home. A city I visited for the first time last year, during a week that was very wet! Never seen rain like it (not even in Scotland!) But that weather brought out a grubiness and tackiness that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise and that’s the side Buchholz captures so well here – including the wet weather and the seediness of the Reeperbahn at 5:00 pm, which, let’s face it, was the only time I was willing to wander (accompanied) round the district!
(Thankfully there were more favourable meteorological conditions on my second visit, when I was just passing through. And the city had a sunnier disposition then. Yes, even the harbour area, which plays such an important role in Blue Night. )
For further information see Mrs Peabody’s interview with Simone Buchholz