Ragnar Jónasson – DUNKEL

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Ragnar Jónasson – DUNKEL

Sie hat nicht mehr lange bis zu ihrer Pensionierung, aber die letzten Monate wollte die Kommissarin Hulda Hermannsdóttir noch mit gewohntem Elan ihrer Arbeit nachgehen, doch dann eröffnet ihr Chef ihr, dass ein jüngerer Kollege sie schon in zwei Wochen ersetzten wird. Sie erbittet sich so lange noch einen Fall und greift zu einer scheinbar erledigten Sache, die ihr komisch vorkommt. Die russische Asylbewerberin Elena wurde tot am Strand aufgefunden, die Verletzungen waren nicht eindeutig einer Straftat zuzuordnen und so wurde der Fall als Suizid abgelegt. Doch weshalb sollte sich die junge Frau das Leben nehmen, gerade nachdem ihrem Asylantrag stattgegeben wurde? Hulda beginnt nachzuforschen und stößt schon bald auf weitere Details, offenbar wurde in dem Fall sehr schlampig ermittelt und ihre These von einem Mordfall nimmt immer konkretere Formen an. Je tiefer Hulda sich in die Sache vergräbt, desto weniger merkt sie jedoch, was um sie herum geschieht und dass sie selbst gerade ins Fadenkreuz gleich mehrere Menschen gerät.

„Dunkel“ ist der Auftakt zu einer offenbar eher düsteren Trilogie. Isländische Krimis leben häufig von einer melancholisch-dunklen Atmosphäre, die zu der monatelangen Dunkelheit im Land passt. Der Thriller überzeugt jedoch vor allem durch eine interessante Protagonistin, die einerseits als clevere Kommissarin punktet, jedoch auch eine zweite, verletzliche Seite hat, die bisweilen ihr Urteils- und Rechtsvermögen herausfordert. Nach und nach wird ihre Lebensgeschichte enthüllt, die wenig Erquickliches zu bieten hat und schließlich mit einem großen und vor allem unerwarteten Knall aufwartet.

Der Kriminalfall um die tote Elena bietet einige vielversprechende Spuren ohne zu schnell gelöst zu werden. Parallel erzählt werden die scheinbar letzten und verhängnisvollen Stunden der jungen Frau, so dass man sich der Auflösung von zwei Seiten annähert, bis man feststellt, dass man geschickt in die Falle gelenkt wurde und so manches scheinbar klare Faktum doch ganz anders zu deuten ist. Die größte Überraschung indes gelingt dem Autor mit dem Ende, von dem ich noch nicht weiß, wie ich es einordnen soll, unerwartet war es auf jeden Fall.

Ein gelungener Auftakt, der große Erwartungen an die Folgebände weckt. Passende Stimmung für eine außergewöhnliche Protagonistin.

Ein herzlicher Dank geht an das Bloggerportal für das Rezensionsexemplar. Mehr Informationen zu Autor, der Serie und dem Buch selbst finden sich auf der Seite der Verlagsgruppe Random House.

Cristina Alger – The Darlings

cristina alger the darlings
Cristina Alger – The Darlings

The Darlings are one of new York’s most famous families. Carter Darling’s investment company makes tons of money, mother Ines is still the most stunning woman at all gala events and their two daughters Merrill and Lily have found perfectly fitting husbands and fulfil their roles of the clever and the beautiful also impeccably. When one of Carter’s business partners commits suicide, the family has to face a crisis they have never seen before and, first and foremost, they have to admit that some things are just not what they pretended them to be: Carter is not the honest businessman, Ines is not the wife who still loves him after all those decades together, and family does not come first, when they feel threatened. What starts with one man taking his life, ends in one of the biggest finance scandals New York has ever seen and the Darlings are at the very centre of it.

Cristina Alger’s novel is a combination of a highly complex financial fraud thriller and a very personal family drama in which almost all characters are put to a test: what are their values, how far are they willing to go to protect their loved ones, how much more important can money be than the lives of people? The mechanics of both, the financial world and a family with their closest friends, are laid open and show the darkest corners of human nature.

Admittedly, “The Darlings” is not a fast paced thriller which keeps you alert all the time. Even though the plot covers just a couple of days and actually moves quite quickly, the author chose to rather go into depths with her characters which I liked a lot since it gives a lot more insight in their thoughts and makes their decision-making a great deal more comprehensible. The sheer number of characters wasn’t easy to manage at the beginning and understanding the connection between them took some time, but in the end, it was all very cleverly connected and set up and no questions was left unanswered. This might be difficult for some readers who prefer a speedy thrill, yet, for those who like stories about human beings and their nature, it is a great read.

Andreas Acker – Castingshow

andreas acker -castingshow
Andreas Acker – Castingshow

Nach einem Bestseller hat der Autor Arne nicht mehr viel aufs Papier gebracht. Zwischenzeitlich sind auch Ehefrau und Sohn ausgezogen und er vegetiert mehr vor sich hin als dass er kreativ schaffend werden würde. Sein Agent sieht die letzte Chance in der Teilnahme an einer Fernsehshow: im Big Brother Stil ziehen zehn Autoren in ein Hotel, liefern täglich eine bestimmte Wortanzahl ihres neuen Romans ab und die Zuschauer entscheiden zusammen mit einer Expertenjury, wer am Abend rausfliegt. Arne ist wenig begeistert und bemüht sich auch gar nicht erst, seinen Unmut zu verstecken. Es dauert nicht lange, bis die Reibereien zwischen den Kandidaten starten und bis sich im Hotel mysteriöse Begebenheiten zutragen. Offenbar geht so einiges nicht mit rechten Dingen zu und Arne richtet sich jedoch zunehmend in seiner Außenseiter- und Nörglerrolle ein. Aber so ganz kann er den Stress, der der Wettbewerb und die gegenseitigen Anfeindungen verursacht, auch nicht von sich schieben und es dauert einige Zeit, bis er merkt, dass er nicht nur in einer Castingshow ist, sondern sich der Hotelaufenthalt zu einem wahren Thriller entwickelt.

Zugegebenermaßen klang das Szenario von Andreas Ackers Thriller zunächst eher nach seichtem Privatfernsehen der Voyeurismus-Kategorie, was mich an sich nur wenig begeistern kann. Ich wurde jedoch positiv überrascht, entwickelt der Roman eine ungeahnte Spannung und kann mit unerwarteten Wendungen und Überraschungen punkten. Besonders überzeugend ist dem Autor die Darstellung des ganzen Castingshow Firlefanz gelungen, Trash TV in Höchstform, was jedoch dank der distanziert abgeklärten Erzählperspektive des Protagonisten und der dokumentarischen Einschübe einen ungeahnten Unterhaltungswert erhält.

Natürlich werden viele Klischees bedient, why not, für das Setting ist es passend und hat zumindest meine Erwartungen damit vollends erfüllt. Es sind andere Punkte, die mich tatsächlich viel mehr gereizt haben. Besonders die Figureninteraktion und ihre Entwicklung unter diesen Laborbedingungen können überzeugen. Schnell bleibt die Höflichkeit auf der Strecke, wenn der Konkurrenzkampf beginnt. Arne ist dabei nicht unbedingt Sympathieträger, kann aber mit seiner distanzierten Haltung die Geschehnisse unterhaltsam wiedergeben und kommentieren. Seine kleinen Gemeinheiten laden ein, bösartige Schadenfreude zu empfinden und entspannt über bisweilen überzogene und fast schon karikaturhafte Darstellungen hinwegzusehen und den Text einfach auf einen wirken zu lassen.

Wendy Clarke – The Bride

wendy clarke the bride
Wendy Clarke – The Bride

There nothing in Alice’s life that didn’t go completely wrong in the last couple of weeks: her employer laid her off, her father didn’t want to see her and now, her partner leaves her because he is having a baby with another woman. After days in bed, she gets a message from an old friend. Joanna. Her former best friend with whom she has lost contact, but now, Joanna wants to meet her to get to know the man she’s going to marry. Could there be a better excuse to leave everything behind at least for a couple of days? Obviously, Joanna must be quite successful living in one of the new posh apartment blocks which must be super expensive. However, when, Alice knocks on the door, there is just Mark, Joanna’s husband to be and he knows nothing of a visitor. Joanna is not there, also the next day, she doesn’t show up. Alice feels increasingly uncomfortable until Mark tells her that Joanna has been kidnapped and that he needs her help to get her back.

Told from Alice’s point of view, you go through a horrendous mass of emotions – emotions which could hardly be more contradictory. Wendy Clarke leads the reader through a tour de force of lies, secrets and very spooky and distressing moments that, at times, give you the creeps. Just like her protagonist, you do not know whom to believe or trust, the whole situation she is caught in feels like a big ghost train rushing towards a giant obstacle without preparing for the impact.

I totally adore plots which keep you alert throughout the whole narration. It is those seemingly insignificant side notes that reveal that there’s so much you do not know, that all characters have some blind spots you don’t see and that everything might be completely different from what you expect or believe. Even though I found Alice a bit too naïve and shallow, I liked to follow her.

The further the plot gets, the higher the pace and suspense, thus a true page-turner that entertained me well.

Stefan Ahnhem – X Ways to Die

stefan ahnhem x ways to die
Stefan Ahnhem – X Ways to Die

Detective Fabian Risk actually could do with some free time to get his family together after the awful events that nearly killed his wife and daughter. Yet, he and his colleagues still have a serial killer on the loose and the killing of people does not stop. Even though the cases could hardly be more different, he senses that there must be some connection. They are finally getting closer to him, but while the Swedish seaside town of Helsingborg is gripped in fear, Fabian also has to complete his very own mission: His former colleague Elvin did not die from suicide, it was forensic scientist Ingvar Molander and obviously, Elvin had put the clues together correctly. Yet, there are still some missing pieces that Fabian needs to uncover before he can finally arrest him, knowing that he has not only a very clever nemesis who knows the rules of the game, but also one who is totally reckless and ready to do everything to get away with much more than one murder.

Stefan Ahnhem continues the story exactly where it ended in “Motive X” and does not waste any time but plunges directly into the plot. Just as in the novel before, “X Ways to Dies” moves at an extremely high pace and cleverly combines the different plot lines that finally tie the knot together. For me, Ahnhem is a worthy successor and heir of Stieg Larsson who set new milestones with his Millennium series; Ahnhem follows his footsteps in many respects by delivering a demanding plot full of suspense.

The latest instalment answers many questions which remained open in the one before thus completing the story and bringing it to a convincing end. What I totally adored was the fight between Risk and Molander, both very clever and certainly belonging to the best in their jobs thus fighting at eye level and giving a lot of insight into police work.  Several setbacks make Risk an authentic and credible protagonist who also shows his weak and vulnerable sides.

The only question left to be answered: does and if so how can the story go on?

Sarah Vaughan – Little Disasters

sarah vaughan little disasters
Sarah Vaughan – Little Disasters

Jess is the absolute role model of a mother, her friends have always admired her diligence and devotion to care for her two sons. When she unexpectedly gets pregnant with a third kid, her husband is over the moon but she does not really share his enthusiasm, she knows how demanding kids can be even for a home-stay-mom. When Betsey indeed turns out to be a rather challenging child, Jess loses her temper, the less she can control the girl, the easier she freaks out until she even gets close to wanting her dead. Her friends Liz, a paediatrist, senses that things do not go too well, but with her own kids and her job, she does not have the time to really take look into the situation. When one evening Jess turns up in the emergency room with Betsey showing obvious signs of neglect and being severely hurt, Liz is trapped between being a friend for Jess and informing the police. How well does she actually know what is going on at her friend’s home?

Sarah Vaughan masterly plays with truths, half-truths and all the things her characters consider truths. Told from different points of view, the reader over and over again gets caught in a trap by making sense of what you know and deciding on what and how the tragic incident happened. Forget it, you are completely wrong since – just as in real life – there is so much more.

Even though the main focus is on the one big question around Betsey’s injuries, the author addresses a lot of questions going far beyond the crime plot. The struggle of women who feel pressure to be the perfect wife, perfect mother, have a successful career and who easily prepare parties with exquisite food is palpable throughout the novel. The four women at the centre all struggle with complying with expectations and their very own goals and ideals. Showing weakness does not seem to be an option, just like asking for help and thus, precarious and even dangerous circumstances are silently endured. Additionally, the question of how far a friendship should or must go is tackled. Liz’ remorse is easy to understand and certainly nobody could ever wish to get into such a situation.

I totally adored the novel, after “Anatomy of a Scandal”, another thoroughly convincing plot with authentic characters and a lot of suspense.

Denise Mina – Conviction

denise mina conviction
Denise Mina – Conviction

Just like every day, Anna McDonald gets up in the morning and turns on a podcast to relax before the usual commotion of her family starts. This morning, however, will be completely different. First, she learns in a true crime podcast that her former friend Leon has been murdered on a boat off the French coast, then, her husband tells her that he’s going to run away with her best friend Estelle taking their two girls with them. When Estelle’s husband Fin Cohen, a famous musician, turns up and a photo of the two of them goes viral, her carefully built life crumbles and falls. It will not be long before someone will recognise her, before those people that she has hidden from for years will finally find her, before it all will start again. She needs to run away again, but before, together with Fin, she will find out what happened to Leon and if the person she supposes behind it all is still looking for her.

Sometimes you start a novel, expecting it to be entertaining and gripping, but then you are literally dragged into it and cannot stop reading. That’s what happened to me with “Conviction”, once I began reading, I was spellbound and fascinated and absolutely wanted to know what all this was about. Due to Denise Mina’s clever foreshadowing and the high pace of the plot, you don’t get a second to relax and breathe deeply, as the protagonist runs, you are tagged along and eagerly follow.

Denise Mina does not waste any time, the story starts like a bull at the gate and before you are even the slightest oriented, you are already in the middle of the mess that Anna is experiencing. Choosing a first person narrator was some clever decision as thus, we only get her perspective, only what she wants to share and which leaves the reader in the dark for quite some time. At first, she seems to be totally overreacting until you realise that there is much more behind it all. The good and dutiful housewife obvious is entangled in some unbelievably big conspiracy with powerful people far beyond any law enforcement.

A proper page-turner with unexpected twists and turns which also has some witty and comical bits and pieces to offer.

Camilla Sten – Das Dorf der toten Seelen

camilla sten das dorf der toten seelen
Camilla Sten – Das Dorf der toten Seelen

Schon immer war Alice fasziniert von den Erzählungen ihrer Großmutter über Silvertjärn, dem Dorf, aus dem sie ursprünglich stammte und in dem alle Einwohner eines Tages spurlos verschwanden. Einzig ein namenloses Baby fand man allein zurückgelassen, die Mutter brutal auf dem Marktplatz hingerichtet. Nach Abschluss der Filmhochschule beschließt Alice gemeinsam mit Freunden einen Dokumentarfilm für die Ereignisse zu drehen. Bereits kurz nachdem die fünf den abgelegenen Ort ohne Strom und Kommunikationsmöglichkeit erreicht haben, geschehen seltsame Dinge. Vor allem Tone scheint es nicht gut zu gehen. Nur Alice weiß, dass Tone die Tochter des einstigen Findelkinds ist und neben ihr ebenfalls einen Bezug zu Silvertjärn hat. Sie beginnen die verlassenen Straßen und Häuser zu erkunden, das dumpfe Gefühl, dass sie nicht allein sind, lässt jedoch nicht lange auf sich warten, ebenso wenig wie die ersten scheinbaren Unfälle, deren Folgen jedoch zunehmend drastischer werden. Gibt es wirklich etwas Böses, das dort sein Unwesen treibt?

Camilla Sten alle hat Zutaten eines Horrorschockers geschickt verarbeitet: eine Gruppe gut gelaunter, sorgloser junger Menschen, die sich nicht alle so gut kennen, dass sie um die Geheimnisse der anderen wüssten; ein abgeschiedener Ort, wo keine Hilfe zu erwarten ist; seltsame, unerklärliche Vorgänge, die zunehmend gruseliger und bedrohlicher werden; eine alte Geschichte, die nicht nur mysteriös, sondern vor allem verlockend ist. Man ist ja immer etwas am Zweifeln, wenn die Kinder bekannter Autoren selbst zur Feder greifen, bei der Geschichte habe ich mich auch lange gefragt, wie sie zu einem glaubhaften und überzeugenden Ende kommen will – aber: auch Camilla Sten kann genau wie ihre Mutter Viveca Sten spannend schreiben und den Plot zu einem sauberen Schluss führen, der plausibel und durch die Erzählung auch einleuchtend motiviert ist.

Neben den aktuellen Ereignissen um die Dokumentarfilmer werden durch Briefe und zurückgelassene Nachrichten die Ereignisse berichtet, die zu dem unheilvollen Tag des Verschwindens geführt haben. Man bekommt einen Einblick in ein Dorf, das kurz vor dem wirtschaftlichen und mentalen Zerfall steht, nachdem die Bergbaugrube, die Arbeit und Sinn gab, geschlossen wurde. Dies führt zu einer Vulnerabilität, der die Menschen letztlich zum Opfer fallen. Auch wenn diese Rückblenden recht kurz sind, wird doch die Dynamik sichtbar, die die Menschen erfasst. In der Spiegelung zur Gegenwart zeigt sich aber auch, dass in Bezug auf bestimmte Themen auch nach 60 Jahren kaum eine Entwicklung stattgefunden hat und Vorurteile und Vorverurteilungen noch genauso präsent sind wie damals.

Ein insgesamt überzeugendes Debüt, das ich mir als Film fast noch besser vorstellen kann als in Buchform.

Thomas Harris – Cari Mora

thomas harris cari mora
Thomas Harris – Cari Mora

Cari Mora is not afraid, not anymore. Having been kidnapped as a kid and trained to become a child soldier for Colombia’s FARC, she knows how to survive even the most dangerous situations. She can read people, use weapons of all kinds and she knows that in order not to be killed, she at times needs to shoot others first. She has established a quiet life in Miami, always under the radar since she does not possess the necessary papers. When Hans-Peter Schneider and his crew appear, things become complicated. A war of gangs breaks out, sadist Schneider as well as his opponent Don Ernesto want to dig out some gold barrels which are supposed to be deposited in a house which formerly belonged to Pablo Escobar, leader of the famous Medellin Cartel. Cari soon find herself between the front lines.

It took Tomas Harris thirteen years after his last instalment of the Hannibal Lecter series to come up with a new novel. Having totally adored “Red Dragon” and “The Silence of the Lambs” and its successors, I was eager to read this novel. Even though the topic is completely different, I expected some cruel thrill and highly complex characters. Yet, my expectations were not really met and for the rating, it only ranges somewhere between three and four stars.

There were some aspects I found really interesting to read. Cari Mora’s backstory as a child soldier was exciting and appalling at the same time and Harris integrated this part quite well into the actual plot line. She certainly is some noteworthy character and the conflicting traits – on the one hand, the ruthless child who learnt how to kill, on the other hand, the caring woman and her way of treating plants and animals which shows her high capacity of empathy – make her a strong protagonist.

However, the main topic is the fight between the two gangs which is, unfortunately, very poorly narrated. Even though Schneider first appears to be a fascinating character with his tendency to torture, this is not really developed further. Thus, the gang fight remains on the highly superficial “we shoot some of you, then you react in the same way” level. This is a bit uninspired and maybe works better in film than in a book.

It is easy to recognise Thomas Harris’ hand in the novel, but he surely can do a lot better than that.

Jackie Kabler – The Perfect Couple

jackie kabler the perfect couple
Jackie Kabler – The Perfect Couple

Life has been perfect for Gemma and her husband Danny. The successful journalist and IT specialist have decided to flee busy London and settle in Bristol in a nice home where the quality of living is higher. When Gemma returns one Friday evening only three weeks after their move, she expects Danny to be at home waiting for her with dinner. However, their house is deserted, no sign that her partner has been at home after work. First, she is only slightly concerned, working overtime is not unusual in his job, but not getting hold of him makes her wonder. After changing his job, he hasn’t gotten a new mobile phone and thus, they only communicate via e-mail which he doesn’t answer. Gemma bravely waits two days, becoming increasingly frightened before she contacts the police for filing a missing persons’ report. What she learns then is that two men looking like Danny’s twins have been murdered in the area and soon she finds herself prime suspect in a serial killer case as strangely, there is not the least sign in her home of Danny ever having lived there with her. What is she actually hiding?

Jackie Kabler’s mystery novel starts quite typical for a thriller, you are immediately thrown into the plot and discover the vanishing of her husband together with Gemma. Thus, you get her growing concern first hand and can easily follow her thoughts. When the police’s side of the story is told, the author switches the point of view and leaves you quite quickly in the positing where you wonder if either you were fooled by Gemma who seemingly has set up some very good murder plot or if the woman suffers from some kind of serious mental troubles and even only imagined to have a husband whom strangely hardly anybody seems to have known. On the other hand, there is some creepy feeling that Danny might have taken advantage of Gemma for some scheme of his own, they haven’t been married that long and he proposed only weeks after they had gotten to know each other.

I totally adored the constant insecurity about whom to trust and what to believe; the more you learn about the characters and the further the events develop, you have to adapt your opinion and change sides more than once. Some unexpected twists and turns keep you hooked to the novel and make it hard to put it down. “The Perfect Couple” is a psychological thriller with an interestingly drawn protagonist and a surprising storyline which make a thrilling and gripping read.