Translated by Rachel Ward
I first met German state prosectutor Chastity Riley last year when I read the fourth book to be translated in the series by ‘Queen of Krimi’ Simone Buchholz. Hotel Cartagena was very different to what I expected – not a legal crime thriller but rather more like Die Hard in Hamburg, featuring hostages in a penthouse bar siege, many of whom just happened to be policemen plus Chastity there to celebrate a colleague’s retirement. Chastity proved to be an amazing main protagonist, super-smart and fast-witted, until she is overtaken by sepsis from a cut on her thumb… It was so brilliantly plotted, and despite jumping into the middle of a series, due to the particular circumstances it stood alone perfectly well. I’m still intending to read the first three books when I have time, but meanwhile, I couldn’t wait to read the latest.
River Clyde is set sometime in the year after the siege and explores the long-term effects of it on the group of policemen plus Chastity, all of whom were affected in one way or another and were put on leave of absence. Stepanovic, Chastity’s friend and occasional lover, is the first police officer to return to work in the St Paulli district of Hamburg. Chastity had the sepsis to recover from, Bülent lost an arm, but all are emotionally scarred.
After a prologue in which a crime is set up by some ne’er do wells buying 500l of a fire accelerant, we return to Chastity who has received a letter from a solicitor in Glasgow. It floors her, and she lets Stepanovic, who has come by to check up on her, see it. They go to a bar.
But then the drink floods my cells in full spate, tearing down all the makeshift walls I’ve put up. I haven’t drunk any alcohol for six months., maybe because I know what would happen next: I’d look for intimacy. And intimacy is not the solution. Intimacy is a threat. Intimacy only holds the danger of it happening again. And again and again and again. Intimacy has to stop, once and for all.
She’s not strong enough to resist his charms though, but tries not to fall in love, she has a trip to Glasgow to plan.
Thereafter the book is told through four different timelines. The primary one remains Chastity’s first person narration, the second alternates bettwen Stepanovic and Calabretta as they investigate the fires and the other three police officers as they have group therapy, the third follows the arsonists and a group of ruthless property developers, the fourth I’ll come to in a moment.
Chastity flies to Glasgow where she is frustrated by the solicitor who won’t give her information about the house she has inherited from a great aunt unless she signs for it. Chastity, aware that it may open too many skeletons, doesn’t want to be landed with a millstone around her neck in her still fragile state. However, she is no wallflower – she goes into a pub – where she finds someone willing to be a drinking partner and friend – no intimacy required. She will also meet Tom, the former lover of her dead aunt who was an artist, and with his help, she’ll exorcize the family demons. Will she take the house? Will she stay? What’ll happen to the guys back in Hamburg? Of course, I couldn’t possibly say.
But back to that fourth strand. Buchholz enigmatically makes the River Clyde an extra character in the novel, and occasional single page chapters flow through the novel as the river watches…
He wonders why she hasn’t come to see him yet, hasn’t stood on his banks yet, even though he felt right away that she was a river person, that he attracts her the way she attracts him.
He makes waves that send out his question, it’s his way of singing, and he hopes that she feels something.
Once again, Buchholz has created an innovatively structured and totally compulsive noir thriller. I literally devoured it. The writing, and translation, is so immediate and full of wit as well as emotion. Chastity is a unique heroine, and in two novels I’ve yet to see her in court – I bet she’s formidable! The way the reader is taken inside her head is done so well, we feel her vulnerabilities and are privy to her thought processes. Stepanovic, meanwhile, is a superb foil and provides steadfast protection and reassurance.
Although Chastity’s situation in this novel is totally separate to the secondary Hamburg threads (apart from the general theme of property being involved), if I hadn’t read Hotel Cartagena I’d feel like I was missing out on a lot of the internal references, so for me this one doesn’t quite stand alone quite as well perhaps – I’d want to know what had happened to the group in that siege. But there is no denying that the Queen of Krimi has written another brilliant and classy noir in this series, and I’d love to find out what happens next to Chastity.
Source: Review copy – thank you. Orenda books, paperback original, 276 pages.
BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (Free UK P&P)