Zakiya Dalila Harris – The Other Black Girl

Zakiya Dalila Harris – The Other Black Girl

Nella Rogers has achieved what she could only dream of, at 26 she is editorial assistant at one of the most prestigious publishing houses. The only thing she has been struggling with the last two years is how the idea of diversity has never entered her workplace, after the Asian girl left, she is the only person with a different background. Things change when unexpectedly Hazel is employed and gets the cubicle next to her. Nella senses immediately that with another black girl, they might finally make a change in publishing, promote more diverse authors and bring forward new topics relevant to a large audience which wasn’t addressed so far. However, it does not take too long until Nella’s work life starts to go downhill.

Zakiya Dalila Harris’ debut novel has been called one of the buzz books of 2021 by several magazines. I was intrigued by the blurb immediately, a kind of horror version of “The Devil Wars Prada” sounded totally enthralling. For a long time, “The Other Black Girl” could fulfil the expectations, there is a highly uncomfortable feeling creeping around, yet, the end was a bit too much for my liking.

Nella is quite a likeable young woman, hardworking and even though not an activist she is following the Black Lives Matter movement even before this becomes a widespread phenomenon and big news. She imagines being able of making a change in the publishing industry but first needs to get at the position where she has the actual power to do so. Therefore, she is quite assimilated and she swallows comments from her colleagues even though they might be quite offensive for persons of colour. With the arrival of Hazel she seems to get an ally and befriends her immediately.

For the reader, even though there are some chapters which seems unrelated to Nella’s story but hint at some goings-ons beyond her scope, it is obvious that Hazel is not the friendly and reliable colleague Nella assumes, this was an aspect which annoyed me a bit, I didn’t get the impression of Nelly being that naive and credulous at first and would have liked her to be a bit cleverer in relation to what happens at her workplace.

The novel, however, is quite strong at portraying Nella’s feelings as being the only black girl, the role she assigned to as representative of a totally diverse group which is just too simplistic, yet, nobody really seems to care about the concept of diversity, having one black girl is enough. She has other issues than her colleagues, especially the talk about hair was quite a novelty, even though this is a huge topic if you do not have the easy-care blond hair.

Overall, I liked the writing and found Nella’s perspective and the insight in the publishing world interestingly realised.

Gustaf Skördeman – Geiger

Gustaf Sköderman – Geiger

Gerade hat sie die Töchter samt Familien verabschiedet, als bei Agneta das Telefon klingelt. Nur ein Wort wird gesagt, „Geiger“, und dann wieder aufgelegt. Agneta weiß, was zu tun ist: sie nimmt die Waffe, die sie seit Jahrzehnten versteckt hat und erschießt ihren Mann, bevor sie sich auf ihre weitere Mission begibt. Polizistin Sara Nowak kennt die Familie gut, ihre ganze Kindheit hat sie dort verbracht und war immer etwas neidisch auf die Mädchen und deren berühmter Vater. Von allen wurde er nur Onkel Stellan genannt und war in den 70ern und 80ern der größte Fernsehstar Schwedens. Jetzt ist er tot und seine Frau auf der Flucht, doch warum?

Gustaf Sköderman hat sich bereits als Regisseur und Drehbuchschreiber einen Namen in seiner schwedischen Heimat gemacht, „Geiger“ ist der Auftakt zu einer Thriller-Trilogie, auf deren historischen Hintergrund er schon vor vielen Jahren durch einen Zeitungsartikel gestoßen war. Was als Familiengeschichte beginnt, wird schnell zum Politthriller, denn der anonyme Anruf weckt die deutschen Sicherheitsbehörden, die seit Jahrzehnten auf ein Lebenszeichen gewartet haben und immer vermuteten, dass der Ost-West-Konflikt des Kalten Krieges noch lange nicht vorbei ist.

Der Markt der Nordic Noir Bücher ist inzwischen unüberschaubar, quasi täglich strömen neben den etablierten bekannten Namen auch neue Autoren auf den Markt und buhlen mit bekannten Mustern um die Gunst der Leser. Erstaunlicherweise wird man aber selten enttäuscht und auch „Geiger“ konnte mich von der ersten Seite an packen. Die Geschichte entfaltet sich im bekannt skandinavischen gemächlichen Tempo, nimmt dann aber mit zunehmender Komplexität des Falles auch an Fahrt auf bis hin zu einem filmreifen Showdown.

Der Autor macht ein inzwischen längst vergessenes Thema der europäischen Geschichte zum zentralen Punkt der Handlung. Zahlreiche Spione wurden zur Zeit des Kalten Krieges auf beiden Seiten der Mauer platziert, viele auch als Schläfer, die Jahrzehnte lang unbehelligt ein unauffälliges Leben führten. Schweden kam als neutralem Staat eine besondere Rolle zu, die letztlich jedoch nicht so unbeteiligt war, wie es schien. Auch kratzt er am Image der Politikerriege, denn diesen kommt eine mehr als zweifelhafte Rolle im Roman zu. Auch wenn ich einige Aspekte für etwas zu viel des Guten hielt und etwas weniger dick aufgetragen auch eine spannende Geschichte ergeben hätte, insgesamt doch ein Thriller, der die Erwartungen erfüllt und zur Abwechslung auch mit interessanten und widersprüchlichen Frauenfiguren aufwartet.

Martin Walker – The Coldest Case

Martin Walker – The Coldest Case

It’s been thirty years that Bruno’s boss J.-J. has been haunting the murderer of an unknown man found in the forest. This cold case seems unsolvable, nobody missed someone and no item which could help to identify him was ever found. Yet, as technology advances, so do the police’s possibilities. By the help of an expert in face reconstruction, they try to remodel his looks, at the same time, quite unexpectedly, another DNA search shows a hit. While J.-J. is happy that his longest case might come to a close, the lovely Périgord region is threatened by fires. While the inhabitants fear the worst, this comes on a very political level with J.-.J.’s cold case: the murderer he has been looking for might be linked to even more serious crimes and thus, national security is suddenly threatened.

With Martin Walker’s series about Bruno Courrèges, you always know what you will get: it is not simply a cosy crime novel located in a beautiful region which finds its deserved place in the book by providing a lot of good food and impressive nature, but also a case which starts out as a minor incident and suddenly develops into something totally unexpected. These by now well-known ingredients also make the 14th instalment an enjoyable holiday read.

What I found most fascinating in this novel were the technical explanations of how you can infer from a skull how the person has looked like. This technique might be useful not just for artistic and museological purposes but also as shown for investigative aims. It is also a clear signal that no deed is unsolvable and that with modern technology, the perfect crime might not be that perfect anymore.

As a German, I was aware of the Rosenholz papers which surprisingly come up in the novel. Surely a rather deplorable part of our history but still offering a lot of food for speculation even today. So again, nothing from the past is ever really over.

All in all, a pleasant cosy crime novel which makes you feel like on holiday and enjoy the atmosphere of France’s countryside.

Yukito Ayatsuji – The Decagon House Murders

Yukito Ayatsuji – The Decagon House Murders

Murder and mystery are what they are all interested in as the members of the so called Mystery Club of their university. They like to delve in the classic stories and to solve the puzzles of crimes. They have even given themselves nick names after the great classic writers of crime novels:  Ellery, Carr, Leroux, Poe, Van, Agatha and Orczy. When they are invited to the remote island of Tsunojima, they are thrilled. It has been the place of a quadruple murder the year before and thus promises an interesting week which they want to spend with writing and enjoying themselves. Yet, they did not count on somebody waiting there for them to settle an old bill which is to be paid with their lives. In the meantime, on the mainland, three people receive letters insinuating that something strange might be going on and that a presumably dead killer might still be around.

“Even if the world were viewed as a chessboard, and every person on it a chess piece, there would still be a limit as to how far future moves could be predicted. The most meticulous plan, plotted to the last detail, could still go wrong sometime, somewhere, somehow.”

Yukito Ayatsuji’s debut novel is clearly inspired by the novels of the Golden Age of crime using the classic setting. “The Decagon House Murders” was first published in Japan in 1987 but only now the English translation is available. The reader alternatingly follows the evens on the island, where one after the other student finds his/her death and on the mainland, where they do not know what exactly happens there but try to combine the murders of the year before with the current events and the mysterious letters they got. Even though both lines of enquiry provide numerous ideas of what could be happening, the reader remains in the dark until the very end, just to discover what can only be called the perfect murder.

The novel is a homage to the classic crime novels and mystery readers who have always enjoyed Agatha Christie and the like will be totally enthralled. The plot, first of all, lives on the atmosphere of the island which is not very welcoming and cut off from the outside thus strongly reminding of “And Then There Were None”. The fact that it was the scene of a dreadful murder only months before adds to the its mysterious vibes. The murders seem to be carefully planned, no repetition in how they students find death and therefore leaving you pondering about one person could manage all this without being detected.

A classic whodunnit I thoroughly enjoyed.

Constantin Schreiber – Die Kandidatin

Constantin Schreiber – Die Kandidatin

Deutschland in naher Zukunft. Die Bundestagswahl steht an und größte Chancen auf den Sieg hat die Ökologische Partei. Nicht jedoch, weil die Klimakrise sich weiter verschärft hat, sondern wegen der Spitzenkandidatin Sabah Hussein. Sie repräsentiert das neue, diverse Deutschland: eingewanderte Muslimin, Feministin und Ikone der Minderheiten, die das Land radikal verändern will. Doch es gibt auch Strömungen gegen sie, all jene, die Jahrhunderte lang privilegiert waren und nun wegen neuer Gesetze plötzlich auf der anderen Seite stehen. Nicht nur die alten weißen Männer, auch die deutschen Frauen, die ohne Vielfältigkeitsmerkmal keine Chance mehr haben. Es bleibt ihnen die radikale Abschottung oder der Kampf gegen die omnipräsente Kanzlerkandidatin, der man scheinbar auch alle Fehltritte verzeiht.

Constantin Schreiber ist Tagesschau-Sprecher und gilt als Nahost Experte, dessen Sachbücher bereits Bestseller wurden und der für seine Talkshow „Marhaba – Ankommen in Deutschland“ den Grimme Preis erhielt. Er setzt sich für den interkulturellen Austausch ein, weshalb es nicht verwundert, dass er in seinem ersten Roman „Die Kandidatin“ den Finger in genau diese Wunde legt. Seine Protagonistin polarisiert und verkörpert vieles von dem, was weite Teile der aktuellen Twitter-Bubble als Hass-Objekt Nummer 1 ansieht. Dass ausgerechnet so eine Figur die besten Aussichten auf den mächtigsten Posten im Land haben soll, muss Widerstand hervorrufen.

„Sie selbst ist Sinnbild dieser Spaltung, einer Polarisierung, die keine Kompromisse zulässt. Entweder man ist für Sabah Hussein und für all das, wofür sie steht, Weltoffenheit, Diversität, Anitkapitalismus, Feminismus, Antirassismus. Oder man ist dagegen.“

Zwei zentrale Aspekte treibt Schreiber in seinem Roman auf die Spitze: zum einen natürlich die Figur Sabah Hussein, zum anderen das neue Deutschland. Progressiv ist nur, wer geschlechterneutrale Kleidung trägt, die alle Körperformen kaschiert, die Regierung hat eine Matrix erlassen, mittels derer für jeden Bürger sein Diskriminierungsgrad errechnet und im Ausweis vermerkt wird, neue Bezeichnungen, Steuern und Quotenregelungen sollen die vorhandenen Privilegien abschaffen. Der klassische Journalismus hat ausgedient, Blogger und YouTuber versorgen ihre Zielgruppen schon mit vorgefertigten Meinungen. Die Deutschlandflagge wird zunehmend durch die Diversitätsfahne, die Nationalhymne durch einen Toleranzsong ersetzt. So manches kommt einem da durchaus bekannt vor, nur ist das Land nun schon einen Schritt weiter.

Sabah Hussein hat schnell verstanden, wie sie sich inszenieren muss, wie sie ihre Gefolgschaft mobilisieren und nach und nach im Politzirkel aufsteigen kann. Sie zeigt sie richtige Haltung, Betroffenheit, wenn jemand nicht-inklusive Sprache verwendet und macht sich durch Omnipräsenz in sozialen Medien mit passenden Bildern zur Ikone der Benachteiligten. Weder ihre Cartier Uhr, noch die teuren Urlaube und die Straftaten ihres Bruders können der praktizierenden Muslimin etwas anhaben. Das perfekte Bild in der Öffentlichkeit wird jedoch für den Leser bisweilen aufgebrochen, sie scheint eine zweite Agenda zu haben, genau jene, die ihre Gegner ihr unterstellen und die sie beharrlich leugnet. So lange sie nicht wirklich an der Macht ist, spielt sie das notwendige Spiel mit, dann wird sie jedoch die Spielregeln neu bestimmen.

Der Roman ist politisch und aktuell, jedoch schwer zu greifen in seiner Absicht. Es wirkt vieles überzogen und absurd, womit man sich schon die Frage stellt, inwieweit aktuelle Tendenzen zu beispielsweise inklusiver Sprache nicht schon fast parodiert werden. Auch ist die Protagonistin in vielerlei Hinsicht eher stereotyp und die noch leisen Nebentöne scheinen die Angst vor der muslimischen Unterwanderung eher noch zu befeuern als jetzt schon vorhandene Gräben zu verringern.

Die Geschichte provoziert – eines meiner Highlights: die Präsident-Erdogan-Schule, die dem türkischen Diktator huldigt – aber sie bleibt hinter anderen verstörenden Romanen, die auf gesellschaftliche und politische Fehlentwicklungen anspielen – Huxleys „1984“, Houellebecqs „Unterwerfung“ – deutlich zurück. Nichtsdestotrotz unterhaltsam zu lesen und durchaus ein interessantes Gedankenexperiment.

Taylor Jenkins Reid – Malibu Rising

Taylor Jenkins Reid – Malibu Rising

It started out as a love story, but Mick Riva wasn’t made for loving only one woman, he was first of all made for a career in the music business and that’s what he did. His wife June though was made for loving but since her husband was absent, she only had to love her kids. The first born Nina, and the second, Jay, and the third who wasn’t her kid at all but she couldn’t just turn her back on Mick’s son Hud who was abandoned by his mother. And last but not least Kit, born long after her parents’ relationship had already fractured several times. While Mick was away, June took care of the kids until she couldn’t anymore, then quite naturally, Nina took over. Now, as a successful model, she is preparing for the legendary annual Riva party in her home in Malibu. Even though they have been having this party for many years, this year will be different and at the end of the night, nothing will be the same anymore for any of the Riva family.

I totally adored Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel “Daisy Jones & The Six“ which was totally lively and got be hooked from the first page. He latest book “Malibu Rising” had exactly the same effect. Her protagonist Nina, whose day of the big party is told alternatingly with the family’s story, is a strong character in a very special way. Her most striking feature surely is to take over responsibility and to do what needs to be done while totally forgetting that she, too, has the right to live. But instead of thinking about herself, she simply cares for the people around her, especially her younger siblings.

While everybody is preparing for the party, the biggest event every summer which is not to be missed by anybody important, Nina strikes a balance of her life so far. She made the maximum of the rather poor baseline. She has become one of the most demanded sports models, idolised by masses of people, her younger brothers are just starting their careers and also the baby of the family is going to fledge the family nest and to make herself noticed and a name. Their father has only ever existed at the edge of their life, it was their mother June who put herself last to make her children feel loved and have a good life despite all the adversities. Now, however, seems to be the moment for a big change.

Another set of unforgettable characters who know what is important in life and underline that there is nothing that will bring you down as long as you’ve got the ones who love you around. Even though nothing could be further from my life than surfing, I liked the passages where the author describes how the kids feel in the water and how surfing provides them with an unknown feeling of freedom.

The perfect summer read which is not at all the light feel-good novel but much rather a great story simply to indulge in.

Ajay Chowdhury – The Waiter

Ajay Chowdhury – The Waiter

His former life a total mess, detective Kamil Rahman quite unexpectedly finds himself waiting tables at an Indian restaurant in London. Her literally had to flee from Kolkata since he totally messed up a high profile case. Now, an old friend of his father’s boards and employs him. When they cater a party at the multi-millionaire Rakesh, Kamil senses a lot of hatred coming from that man towards him even though he has never met him before. A couple of hours later, Rakesh is found dead in his mansion’s swimming-pool and his current wife Neha, three decades his junior and close friend of Kamil’s hosts’ daughter Anjoli, is accused of murder. Immediately, Kamil’s instincts jump in and he tries to figure out what has happened. But with the start of his investigation, also the memories of what drove him from his home town comes back.

Ajay Chowdhury’s novel is a very cleverly constructed mystery which links two seemingly unconnected crimes and events on two continents in a skilful way. By telling bits of both stories alternatingly, you advance and yet, for quite a long time, do not really get the whole picture which keeps suspense high at all times. At the same time, the story lives on the characters and their live between two cultures which are not always easy to bring together.

Without any doubt, the protagonist and his conviction of law and order and fighting for the right is the most striking feature of the novel. Seeing how his world view, which was more or less just black and white, slowly becomes blurred and he starts to question all he has ever believed in, is a great character development, especially for a mystery novel.

Both murder cases are highly complex and can only be sorted out by a very sharp mind – yet, knowing the truth does not mean that it will also win ultimately. A lesson which Kamil learns the hard way.

An intriguing read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Friedrich Ani – Letzte Ehre

Friedrich Ani – Letzte Ehre

Fariza Nasri ist eine der besten Kommissarinnen, denn sie bringt die Menschen zu reden. Sie hört ihnen zu, gibt ihnen das Gefühl, dass sie sich bei ihr endlich alles von der Seele reden können. Nach dem Verschwinden der 17-jährigen Finja stecken die Ermittlungen fest, die Polizisten sind sich jedoch sicher, dass Stephan Barig, der Freund der Mutter, etwas damit zu tun hat. Langsam nähert sich die Oberkommissarin der Wahrheit. Sie hört Dinge, die sie nicht hören will, sich aber anhören muss und findet in dem Netz, das sie langsam webt, weitere Spuren zu einem ganz anderen Verbrechen und auch da ist sie es wieder, der das Herz ausgeschüttet wird und die die Last der Mörder auf sich nehmen muss. Dabei trägt sie auch ihre eigene Last, denn auf welcher Seite des Tisches im Befragungsraum Täter sitzen, verwischt ebenso wie die Vorstellung von Täter und Opfer.

Schon seit vielen Jahren ist Friedrich Ani eine feste Größe im deutschen Literaturbetrieb, mehrfach mit dem Deutschen Krimi Preis und anderen Ehrungen ausgezeichnet, hat er sich daneben auch als Drehbuchautor für Filme und Hörspiele einen Namen gemacht. Immer wieder erschafft er dabei ungewöhnliche Ermittler, die sich in keine Schublade pressen lassen, allen voran Tabor Süden. In „Letzte Ehre“ macht er eine Frau zur Protagonistin und wieder handelt es sich um einen Charakter, der aneckt, heraussticht, aber über genau jene speziellen Fähigkeiten verfügt, die letztlich zum Ermittlungserfolg führen.

Fariza Nasri spielt nicht guter Bulle/böser Bulle, sie konfrontiert ihre Gegenüber nicht mit Fakten, unterstellt ihnen nichts. Sie hört zu, gibt ihnen das Gefühl zu ersten Mal im Leben frei erzählen zu können. Sie haben keine Angst vor ihr, glauben sich ihr anvertrauen zu können und ahnen nicht, wie sie jedes Detail einsaugt, bis sie genug gehört hat, um zum Schlag auszuholen. So beherrscht sie in den Gesprächen ist, so emotional wird sie, als ihre Freundin überfallen und brutal misshandelt wird. Es gibt auch eine andere Seite der scheinbar völlig kontrollierten Frau, jene, die sie gut verbirgt, die ihr aber schon einmal zum Verhängnis wurde.

Neben seiner ungewöhnlichen Protagonistin besticht der Roman jedoch noch viel mehr durch die clevere Anlage gleich mehrerer Mordfälle, die so reibungslos ineinanderfließen, als wäre es geradezu zwingend von einem zum nächsten zu kommen. Spannend auch die Frage nach Schuld, Nasri kümmert sich nicht um die Emotionen der Täter, sie blickt dahinter und findet komplexe Geflechte, die, genau wie in ihrem eigenen Fall, die scheinbar so eindeutigen Grenzen der wohlgeordneten Welt verwischen.

Auch wenn viel gemordet und ermittelt wird, ein klassischer Krimi ist „Letzte Ehre“ so gar nicht. Es ist viel mehr der Blick in den Abgrund der menschlichen Psyche, der all das an die Oberfläche spült, was lange gut versteckt war, weil es hässlich und schlicht böse ist.

Martin Walker – The Shooting at Château Rock

Martin Walker – The Shooting at Château Rock

The death of an old sheep farmer does not seem too suspicious, he was suffering from heart problems and scheduled for getting a pacemaker. Yet, when his son and daughter find out that they have been disinherited and that their father had planned to move into a luxurious retirement home, this raises questions. Even more so when neither the insurance nor the notaire responsible for the contract can be gotten hold of. While Bruno Courrèges, Chief of Police of St. Denis, investigates, he also enjoys the Dordogne summer and especially the time with his friends, amongst them former musician Rod Macrae who lives in an old nearby castle and is waiting for his children to spend some time there. Bruno is fond of the two now grown-ups and quite surprised when gets to know Jamie’s girl-friend: Galina Stichkin, daughter of a superrich oligarch and close friend of the Russian president.

The 15th case for the amiable French policeman again offers the pleasant atmosphere of the southern French countryside with a lot of talk about the historical heritage of the region and even more about the local food and the best way to enjoy it. What starts with a suspicious case of foul play and thus seems to be quite in line with the former novels, quickly, however, turns into a highly political plot covering debatable recent affairs and bringing the big political picture to the small community. Therefore, “The Shooting at Château Rock” isn’t just a charming cosy crime novel but rather a complex political mystery.

There are several reasons why one can adore the Bruno, Chief of Police series. On the one hand, you will be never disappointed when you like to delve into the French cuisine and learn something new about the Dordogne regions rich nature and food. On the other hand, this is surely not the place for fast-paced action with a lot of shootings and deaths. The plots centre around the people and some very basic motives for their deeds – as expected, all to be uncovered by Bruno.

What I liked most this time was how Walker combined a petty crime – if one can call a cold-blooded murder a petty crime – with the global organised crime which operates in the financial sector just as in politics and is long beyond being controlled by official security agencies. He convincingly integrates real life events which shook the public and will ever remain notes in the history books of where mankind simply failed to protect civilians from underground forces with their very own agenda.

Another perfect read for some summer escape to the French countryside.

Jo Spain – The Perfect Lie

Jo Spain – The Perfect Lie

Erin and her husband Danny are the perfect couple and still totally in love when, one morning, Danny’s partner appears unexpectedly at their door and Danny jumps to death. When Erin starts asking questions about the why, the police remain quiet, she only learns that there must have been some internal investigation and that obviously her husband wasn’t the good cop she has always assumed. Yet, a lot of things are strange and when Erin is approached by a guy named Cal who tells her that she shouldn’t believe the rumours because Danny wanted to help his sister against all obstacles within the police, she does not know what to believe anymore. Eighteen months later, she finds herself in court – charged with murdering her husband. How could things turn out so badly?

Again, Jo Spain has created a suspenseful novel in which nothing is as it appears at first glance. “The Perfect Lie” is not just around one lie, but around many lies, things left unsaid, bits and pieces which form a perfect picture but couldn’t be farer from reality. Since the story is narrated at different points in time, you quite naturally interpret the action based on what you know at that moment, just to learn a bit later that all your assumptions were totally wrong since you were lacking that relevant piece of information.

Erin is in her early thirties when she is confronted with the most tragic event imaginable: witnessing her husband committing suicide. Yet, this does not leave her grieving in shock and incapable of action. However, her questions are greeted with rejection and she is treated in the most horrible way by the police and her husband’s former colleagues and friends. No wonder she turns to the people who are willing to help her and one can only wonder why so many behave in this way. Suspense, however, is mainly created by the fact that she finds herself accused of murder only months later. As a reader, you witness the moment Danny decides to take his life, all is clear so quite naturally, it is totally unbelievable how this could have been turned against the widow. How far would police go to cover any trace of misconduct?

I was gripped form the start and couldn’t put down the novel once I had read the first chapter. Spain perfectly plays with our conviction to understand a situation based on the bits of information we have just to demonstrate that maybe we came to a conclusion a bit too quickly since things are not always what they seem. A superb read that I thoroughly enjoyed.