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!