Who killed the penguin?

Morgue Drawer Next Door by Jutta Profijt

Translated from the German by Erik J Macki.

This unusual crime novel is narrated by Pascha – he used to be a car thief – the best young one in Cologne. Pascha has become a sort of detective, teaming up with Dr Martin Gänsewein, a forensic examiner for the city. They have a bit of a love-hate relationship, Martin is very good at his job, but is a little set in his ways; Pascha can be like an annoying dog, always nipping at his heels. Martin does believe in justice though, and Pascha’s heart is in the right place for an ex-car-thief.

They met in the morgue, when Martin was performing Pascha’s autopsy – yes, Pascha is a ghost! Martin is the only person he can communicate with, which drives him mad – but the two do work together well. The story of their meeting, in which they investigate Pascha’s own murder, is told in the first book of this series Morgue Drawer Four, which I’ve not read, (but would now like to).

In Morgue Drawer Next Door, the unlikely pairing have a new case to investigate. A convent in the posh area of Cologne, has a fire in which one sister perishes, and another is burned to a crisp, but hangs on in ICU. The run-down convent needs a lot of expensive restoration work done and the police are inclined to think that the fire was an accident. One person knows differently however – the nun who died, Sister Marlene. Marlene’s spirit lingers – she has a mission to accomplish before passing on.

When Pascha finds her, he takes her under his wing and vows to help. The only problem is that Martin is a) not supposed to be back at work yet after having been stabbed (in the previous novel), and b) would rather Pascha was not around so he can progress his fledgling romance with the lovely Birgit. Pascha becomes go-between, for Marlene can only communicate with him, and goaded on by the two ghosts, Martin grudgingly gets on the case.

Martin is gloriously grumpy and reluctant to get involved in another case – after all, he got hurt last time. He also wants more downtime from Pascha being in his head. He’s not a policeman, he’s a pathologist, but knowing that the fire was no accident, he can’t leave it. He must find a way of getting the right information on how to solve the crime to the police without them condemning him as a crackpot who talks to ghosts! Luckily for Pascha, Martin’s new girlfriend Birgit is game for helping him out, and has no idea about the ghosts.

This brings me to Pascha and Marlene. Their interplay is so sweet and funny. You can imagine how a middle-aged nun would react to the testosterone-led mindset of a young man, yet there is no-one else for her to turn to to show her the ropes of being a ghost. Sister Marlene soon realises that, and the chalk and cheese pairing are soon whooshing all over the place and manipulating situations to find the proof they need.

Although this all sounds delightful and irreverent, which it is, there is a more serious side to the novel regarding the work of the convent. Amongst other things, they run a night shelter for the homeless, and none of their neighbours like it. The surrounding area has gone up in the world, and the new posh inhabitants don’t want bums on their doorstep, nor do the allotment owners nearby, or right-wing groups. The nuns are under pressure on all sides to shut up and ship out.

The novel is narrated throughout by Pascha, who maintains that he is writing a book, and there are frequent asides about his Editor. Initially, this was slightly irritating, but you can’t help warming to Pascha. There is a lovely bit where he tries to justify his having been a car-thief to Marlene – generating wealth in insurance, people buying new cars etc, and keeping the manufacturers in work.  Marlene too, although pious, is humane and does have a good sense of humour for a nun – something she had needed in her work one surmises.

If you enjoy crime novels with humour and a lot of heart, this may be one for you. Knowledge of the first volume is not necessary to enjoy this one, but I certainly want to read it now I’ve read the second. (8.5/10)

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Source: review copy
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

Morgue Drawer Next Door by Jutta Profijt. Amazon Crossing paperback, Jul 2012, 256 pages.
Morgue Drawer Four – the first book in the series.

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