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.

Zoe Lea – The Secretary

zoe lea the secretary
Zoe Lea – The Secretary

As a single mother with a highly sensitive 8-year-old son and a very tight financial situation, Ruth already has a lot to carry. When one morning she comes across Rob in front of the school where she works as a secretary, she cannot believe what she sees: the man who pretended to be single when she spent a night with him obviously is happily married with kids. Ruth is furious and so is Janine, Rob’s wife, when she realises what she is witnessing. Ruth made her biggest enemy with Janine, the one woman in the community who is great at networking and friends with everybody. The same day, the school gets a letter demanding Ruth’s lay-off because of how she behaved in front of children. But this is only the beginning of a totally nasty fight.

Zoe Lea’s novel is a real page turner. It is unbelievable what happens to Ruth who seems to be a caring mother who’d do anything for her boy and who only tries to live a decent life after the divorce. Nobody wants to believe her and everything is simply turned around making her appear to be to aggressor. The most awful thing is that you get the impression that money and power are more important than the truth and that those who are already at the end of the food chain hardly have a chance to be heard and taken seriously.

A fast paced novel that was hard to put down. I was hooked immediately and liked the development of the events, a downward spiral which once set in motion couldn’t be stopped anymore. With each chapter, Ruth’s actions became more drastic since she was pushed more and more in a corner and like a threatened animal, did not see another way out of the menacing situation. Yet, her character is not too obvious, I started questioning her more and more towards the end which, actually, I totally liked since I couldn’t be too sure about what to believe anymore.

All in all, very entertaining and enjoyable.

Emily Henry – Beach Read

emily henry beach read
Emily Henry – Beach Read

After her father’s death and the revelation that apart from her mother, there was another woman he obviously loved, January falls into a deep hole. Hopelessly romantic as she is, she does not understand the world anymore and has to realise that her parents’ perfect marriage was far from the ideal she had always pictured it. Her mental state also keeps her from doing her job: writing romantic novels. How can you write about love when you lost all believe in it? Totally broke and to overcome her writer’s block, she moves to her father’s beach house which she plans to clear out and sell and where she hopes over summer to finish her next novel. When she arrives, another surprise is waiting for her: her neighbour Augustus Everett was at college with her and her greatest enemy. He always looked down on her Happily Ever After novels while he himself was more of the serious literary writing type. Soon, they realise that they have much more in common than they had thought and somehow they come to have a bet: swap genres and see who is the first to sell a book.

Emily Henry’s novel not only has the perfect title but it also keeps the promise that comes with it: it is a beach read just as you’d imagine: A bit of romance here, also some struggle but none too depressing there, all wonderfully narrated so that you just rush through it while enjoying the sun. It is a light-hearted escape to forget about the world and your own problems for a couple of hours and to only indulge in reading.

Even though I am not that much into com-coms, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. At times, I had to laugh out loud as the author really manages to find a carefree and relaxed tone; when in other novels you again and again read about barking dogs, in “Beach Read” you get this here: “Somewhere, a Labrador was farting. “

Even though a typical summer read which does not weigh too much on your shoulders, there are some more serious aspects one could ponder on, but clearly, the romantic fight between the protagonists is in the centre and it is clearly meant to be enjoyed.

Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji

akwaeke emezi the death of vivek oji
Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji

When they hear some noise outside, Kavita opens the door and finds her son Vivek dead on the porch. There was some commotion at the local market and Vivek had wanted to go there where he obviously was killed. But who would ever want to do something to her beloved son? Yes, he had always been different, a bit strange which also made it hard for his cousin and childhood best friend Osita who witnessed strange occurrences such as Vivek’s mind wandering away and making him believe being a different person. And that’s just what he was, secretly, without his parents’ knowledge. But Osita, too, has some secrets he keeps from his and Vivek’s family, some just because they do not fit in their village’s idea of a young man’s life, others because they would be impossible to endure for anybody.

Just like in her novel “Freshwater”, “The Death of Vivek Oji” centres around a young protagonist who differs, whose mind works in a very singular way, yet, Vivek’s is less extraordinary than Ada’s. Nevertheless, the main conflict is placed between the individual and society: a person who does not comply with general expectations and cannot really reveal his emotions and most certainly cannot live the way he would prefer since this simply does not work in the place he lives.

“We can’t keep insisting he was who we thought he was, when he wanted to be someone else and he died being that person, Chicka. We failed, don’t you see?”

The story is told in flashbacks to describe the long road that lead to Vivek’s death. Alternately, Vivek and Osita narrate from their point of view what they experienced and how they felt. Both are trapped somehow since there are things they cannot talk about to anybody except for each other, at the same time, it is difficult for Osita to support Vivek’s otherness. The struggles they go through are very well established and easy to relate to. From a western perspective, it is incredible what is done to Vivek, especially the exorcism performed on him, but there are still places where binary thinking is the rule.

There is some mystery to solve, yet, it is much more about young people who are trying to figure out who they are and how they can live in a place where fixed rules and high expectations do not go well together with who they are. Even though it is, in the end, a rather sad story in many ways, I’d consider it a great and noteworthy read.

Roland Buti – Das Leben ist ein wilder Garten

roland buti - das leben ist ein wilder garten
Roland Buti – Das Leben ist ein wilder Garten

Landschaftsgärtner Carlo Weiss wird aus seinem gewohnten Trapp gerissen. Seine Tochter ist zum Studium aus der Schweiz nach London gezogen, seine Frau Ana hat ihn kürzlich verlassen und dann wird auch noch sein Angestellter Agon von wilden Kerlen brutal zusammengeschlagen und muss ins Krankenhaus. Derweil flüchtet Carlos Mutter aus ihrem Seniorenheim und ist seit Tagen nicht mehr gesehen worden. Bei dem Versuch, alles wieder ins Lot zu bringen, kommt er seinem Mitarbeiter näher, erkennt das Talent seiner Tochter, merkt er, dass er immer noch innige Liebe für seine Frau empfindet und erfährt eine schier ungeheuerliche Geschichte über das Leben seiner Mutter, die er bislang nur in dieser Funktion wahrgenommen hat und nie darüber nachdachte, dass auch sie mal ein junges Mädchen mit großen Träumen gewesen sein könnte.

Roland Buti ist Geschichtslehrer und bevor er mit dem literarischen Schreiben begann, hatte er bereits mit seiner Promotionsarbeit für viel Aufsehen gesorgt. Sein Buch „Le Milieu de l’horizon“ (Das Flirren am Horizont) wurde 2014 mit dem Schweizer Literaturpreis geehrt. Der aktuelle Roman überzeugt vor allem durch eine ausdrucksstarke Sprache, die die Verbindung zwischen der Natur, die einerseits im Garten gezähmt wird, andererseits sich aber immer wieder auch Orte erobert, und auch den Menschen in Carlos Leben herstellt, die ebenfalls alle ganz eigentümliche Gewächse sind.

Es gibt keinen großen, umfassenden Handlungsbogen in dem kurzen Roman, er wirkt mehr wie ein Netz, in dessen Zentrum Carlo steht, der Verbindungen nach mehreren Seiten hat. Zum einen die eigene Familie mit Tochter und (noch) Frau, die sich eher unerwartet entwickelt. Der zweite Strang bezieht sich auf seine Arbeit und damit verbunden seinen Mitarbeitern und ist metaphorisch der stärkste. Interessanter wiederum ist die demente Mutter, die kurz vor dem Tod steht und sich in ein Luxushotel geflüchtet hat, wo sich eine bislang gut gehütete Seite ihrer Persönlichkeit offenbart, was womöglich auch an den Wunderbonbons aus Agons Garten liegen könnte.

Kein lauter, umwerfender Roman, sondern ein ruhiger, geradezu zarter Ausflug in die Literatur und Natur, der in der richtigen Stimmung genossen zu einem wundervollen Leseerlebnis wird.

Lydia Mischkulnig – Die Richterin

Lydia Mischkulnig – Die Richterin

Gabrielle ist Asylrichterin. Sie entscheidet über eine Zukunft in Österreich oder die Rückkehr in ein Land ohne Perspektive. Sie hat Akten, sie hat Berichte, sie ist allein, wenn sie eine Entscheidung treffen muss. Erzählt man ihr die Wahrheit oder ist das Schicksal aufgebauscht; kann die Erfahrung, die man ihr schildert, wirklich so sein oder ist das der Versuch, sich einen Platz an der Sonne zu erobern? Mit ihrem Mann kann sie sich kaum mehr austauschen, der frühpensionierte Lehrer könnte kaum weiter von ihr entfernt sein, die soziale Dysbalance mit der Frau in der Machtposition kommt erschwerend hinzu. Alles scheint möglich und nichts ist mehr auszuhalten.

Lydia Mischkulnigs Roman ist vielschichtig und liefert auf ganz unterschiedlichen Ebenen Einblicke in das Wesen und den psychologischen Zustand einer einsamen Frau. Es ist kein Frauenroman, aber durchaus eine Geschichte, die sehr nah an dem Menschen ist, der im Zentrum der Handlung steht. Seit fast 30 Jahren arbeitet die Autorin vorrangig als Schriftstellerin und ist mit zahlreichen Preisen geehrt worden. Wiederkehrend in ihren Büchern ist die Spannung zwischen dem Individuum und der Gesellschaft, was sich auch in dem aktuellen Roman ganz deutlich zeigt.

In ihrem Beruf ist Gabrielle einsam und muss sich auf ihre Menschenkenntnis verlassen. Sie hört die Schicksale, ist von diesem bewegt und steht doch im Dienst des Landes und der Gesellschaft, die sie auch schützen soll. Die Diskrepanz zwischen ihren Emotionen und den rationalen Aufgaben wird zunehmend schwerer zu kompensieren. Dinge, die nicht vorstellbar sind, muss sie sich vorstellen, um sie beurteilen zu können und sie wird gleichzeitig durch den Akt des Entscheidens angreifbar und verletzlich. Auch ihr Privatleben ist ein kleiner Kriegsschauplatz, die Entfremdung zwischen ihr und ihrem Mann ist mehr als offenkundig und fast schon kann man das Unglück greifen, auf das die beiden zusteuern.

Der Roman ist zwar nicht als klassischer stream of consciousness geschrieben, springt aber in ähnlicher Weise von einem Gedanken zum nächsten, was einem die Innensicht der Protagonistin sehr nahe bringt. Die Autorin fasst die unterschiedlichen sich widersprechenden Gefühlsebenen hervorragend in Worte und nimmt einem so mit auf diese emotionale Achterbahn, die Gabrielle gerade durchläuft.

Patrick Hoffman – Clean Hands

patrick hoffman clean hands
Patrick Hoffman – Clean Hands

Elizabeth is used to a high working load and stress, but this situation might bring her down. One of her young lawyer’s phones has been pickpocketed and he had neither security nor lock on it – but highly sensitive data on their current case. The best woman to take care of such a mess is Valencia Walker, former CIA officer and fixer of unsolvable cases. Indeed, she and her team can track the phone down immediately, but nevertheless, some blackmailing takes place. While Valencia sets everything in motion to stop any more harm from occurring, Elizabeth wonders why she is doing all this and if she shouldn’t just give all up, not knowing what else there is to come.

Patrick Hoffman’s mystery novel seems to be quite obvious from the start: a young and inexperienced lawyer who is threatened and therefore sells his boss. Then, some young and rather stupid men who are simply lucky and can seize a chance when it presents itself in front of them. Quite naturally, things become a bit complicated and tricky for Valencia and her team and then – you realise that this isn’t the point of it at all.

The story advances at quite some high pace with some parentheses every now and then which provide some more depth and insight and which slow the plot down a bit so that you can take a breath before it regains speed. The number of characters makes it a bit hard at times not to lose the thread, but overall, I can only conclude that the plot is brilliantly crafted and none of what happens could be foreseen from the beginning.

Even though it is clearly fiction and I don’t tend to be prone to believing any conspiracy theories about governments or any agencies carrying out secret missions in the homeland, there are some aspects of the story which at least made me ponder about the probability. That’s what I totally appreciate in a good novel: being hooked from the start and having something lingering in my mind after the last page.

JP Delaney – Playing Nice

jp delaney - playing nice
JP Delaney – Playing Nice

Theo’s birth is highly dramatic, much too early, the young boy has to be taken to intensive care while his mother Maddie is still weakened by the C-section. So, it’s Pete’s task to get familiar with all the machines and to take care of his little son. Despite the turbulent start, Theo develops much better than expected and Pete turns out to be the perfect father while Maddie struggles with her new role. Quite naturally, they decide to have Pete stay at home since his job is less well paid and he totally likes taking care of the boy. When one day Miles and his wife Lucy are in front of their door, they only have faint memories of the couple whose boy was born on the same day as Theo and who was also taken to an incubator. The reason for their visit will shake their lives: the boys were swapped and Theo actually is their biological son. What starts as a friendly encounter, since they all sit in the same boat, quickly turns into the most evil fight no parent would ever like to be in. And just like in war, Miles is willing to use any weapon available to get his boy.

A novel like a roller coaster ride, emotionally challenging and breath-taking, reading it caused me almost a night without sleep since I couldn’t put it away. It is a conflict which is unsolvable, yet, the way it all turns out is unbearable to read and makes you wonder the whole time: could this happen to me, too? What incriminating material would police find if they checked on my computer and mobile phone? And at the same time: this is so absolutely unfair, this cannot be true, but how often do you hear of those stories where institutions are simply wrong and easily fooled?

At the beginning, I was wondering if Maddie’s difficulties of bonding with her son would become the major focus of the novel, quite soon, this shifted when the core problem became known. You cannot say what to do in such a case and just like the protagonists, I would never have expected it all to turn out that way. It is sheer unbelievable how everything that happens is turned against Pete and Maddie, even the most harmless incidents become major reproaches and raise questions about their parenting. It isn’t illogical at all, that is the terrible realisation, from the characters’ point of view, they hardly have any other option than interpreting the signs in this way. It hurts reading it, it really hurts, first and foremost when you look at what the situation does to Pete and Maddie. I guess, at some point, I might have given up had I been in their shoes.

To call it a wonderful read would somehow be awkward, yet, it is a brilliantly crafted novel with a very interesting conflict and, above all, authentic and lively characters who could just be you or me. Even though it is fiction and as a thriller mainly aims at making you feel a cold shiver running down your spine, it is also a novel that makes you ponder a lot.

Kate Reed Petty – True Story

kate reed petty true story
Kate Reed Petty – True Story

Nick, Max and Richard are the members of the promising lacrosse team of their college. Apart from doing sports, partying is what they like most, getting drunk and making out with girls. After one especially wild party, rumours spread, but the versions of what happened vary. Richard and Max claim their innocence while Alice cannot really remember, but she is sure that her best friend Haley tells the truth when she asserts that immediately after the deed, the boys boasted about what they had done to her. Years go by, Richard turns into a rich businessman, also Haley made a career in the film industry. Things didn’t turn out that well for the others, Nick is closer to death by drinking or simply being stupid and Alice struggles forever with psychological problems stemming from the assumed assault. It will take years until the four of them confront again and the truth about what happened comes to the light.

One thing is absolutely sure: this novel was different from what I have read before. Normally, it is quite easy to put a plot into a genre or at the maximum having two combined, but here, it is a genre mix in which you never know where it will lead you and what the end might be. There is quite some suspense since the whole plot is moving towards the final confrontation – even though this is not really obvious for quite some time – but it is also really tragic when Alice’s part is told. It did not have that much sympathy for Nick admittedly, a character I more or less despised from the beginning. You make assumptions about what happened but you have to correct them repeatedly, which I liked a lot since this cleverly shows you based how a limited point of view one’s verdict quite often is.

There are several novels, apart from all the psychological books, which give some insight in how much impact an assault can have on a victim’s life. Here, too, Alice is completely thrown off the track after that night, the lively and joyful girl turns into a nervous and easy to exploit, insecure young woman. Richard, on the other hand, seems unaffected by the accusations, he goes to Princeton and makes a career to become the hottest bachelor of the country. Nick is not immediately affected, he is a friend confronted with the question if he should or could believe the boys’, whom he has known forever, version. Yet, he is an example of someone who was gifted and had a promising future but threw it all away with being lazy and preferring partying over working hard for his success.  In the end, you might even see him as a tragic character, but I wouldn’t say so, he had his chances but didn’t take them.

A novel I simply rushed through as I couldn’t put it down anymore once I had started. Quite an interesting approach and a very cleverly crafted plot made it a great read.

Avraham B. Yehoshua – The Tunnel

a.B. Yehoshua The tunnel
Avraham B. Yehoshua – The Tunnel

Slowly he is deteriorating and the verdict is clear: dementia. Zvi Luria, former road engineer, struggles with the diagnosis and the effects of the illness: increasingly, he is forgetting first names and once he could only be stopped at the last moment from picking up another boy than his grandchild from kindergarten. When he is invited to a farewell party of a former colleague, he visits his old office where he stumbles upon Asael Maimoni, the son of his last legal adviser, who is now occupying his post. Luria’s wife thinks it would be a good idea to get her husband’s brain filled with work again and thus he becomes Maimoni’s unpaid assistant in planning a tunnel in the Negev desert. When working on the road, he not only profits from his many years of experience that he can successfully use despite his slowly weakening memory, but he also learns a lot about his own country and the people he never tried to really get to know.

Yehoshua is one of the best known contemporary Israeli writers and professor of Hebrew Literature. He has been awarded numerous prizes for his work and his novels have been translated into many languages. Over and over again, Israel’s politics and the Jewish identity have been central in his works and this also plays an important part in his latest novel.

“The tunnel” addresses several discussion worthy topics. First of all, quite obviously, Luria’s dementia, what it does to him and how the old man and his surroundings cope with it. In an ageing society, this is something we all have come across and it surely isn’t an easy illness to get by since, on the one hand, physically, the people affected are totally healthy, but, on the other hand, the loss of memory gradually makes them lose independence and living with them becomes more challenging. If, like Luria, they are aware of the problems, this can especially hard if they had an intellectually demanding professional life and now experience themselves degraded to a child.

The second noteworthy aspect is the road-building which is quickly connected to the core Israeli question of how they treat non-Jewish residents and their culture. Not only an Arab family in hiding, due to a failed attempt to help them by a former commanding officer of the forces, opens Luria’s eyes on what is going on at the border clandestinely but with good intentions, but he also witnesses how officials treat the nomad tribe of Nabateans and their holy sites.

On a more personal level, the novel also touches questions of guilt and bad conscience as well as the possibility of changing your mind and behaviour even at an older age.

Wonderfully narrated with an interesting and loveable protagonist, it was a great joy to read this novel that I can highly recommend.