On a September evening eleven years ago, two 17-year-old girls vanished without a trace from the tiny village of Altenhain, just outside Frankfurt. In a trial based on circumstantial evidence 20-year-old Tobias Sartorius was convicted and imprisoned for the murder of his childhood friend Laura and his beautiful girlfriend Stefanie – otherwise known as Snow White. After serving his sentence, Tobias returns home. His presence in the little German village stirs up the events of the past. Events that the locals would prefer to remain hidden. When the Sartorius family is subjected to a number of attacks, Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff and DS Oliver von Bodenstein are tasked with monitoring the tense atmosphere in the tight-knit community. As the village inhabitants close ranks it becomes apparent the disappearance of Snow White and her friend was far more complex than imagined. Then history starts to repeat itself in a disastrous manner when another pretty girl goes missing. The police are thrown into a race against time. Can they solve the mystery before it’s too late?
Already a bestseller across Europe, top selling German crime author Nele Neuhaus makes her UK debut with what I believe is the fourth of her crime series, Snow White Must Die, featuring detectives DI Pia Kirchhoff and DS Oliver von Bodenstein. As Tobias Sartorius returns to his native small village after serving a sentence for murder, this tight knit community is stirred up into a maelstrom of revenge with the dark secrets of past events coming to light with brutal and destructive results for both Sartorious seeking to prove his innocence and those who try to conceal their own guilty past…
I was totally gripped by this tale from the outset and despite running to nearly 500 pages, Neuhaus completely controls the unfolding of events with every twist and turn beautifully placed within the central narrative. In this way, there is very much a feeling that the reader can play along, as your suspicions consistently pivot between the major and minor characters, but Neuhaus cleverly keeps us on the back foot with a series of reveals that are neither contrived nor annoyingly coincidental. To keep up this level of interest for the reader over the course of this not insubstantial crime novel is no mean feat and adroitly handled, largely due to not only exceptional plotting but also the control of a large and intriguing cast of characters.
The characterisation is superb throughout, and with shades of Twin Peaks this small community gives rise to an eclectic selection of characters, perfectly capturing the mealy mouthed and gossiping neighbours of Sartorious and his father, and those in the village that have something to hide. Neuhaus not only depicts the long-standing connections between those born and raised within the village who have never ventured from its confines, but also cleverly uses the character of a Goth teenager, Amelie Frohlich, an outsider who forms a bond with not only Tobias but also Thies Terlinden, the autistic son of the most powerful man within this community. The relationship between these, in their own way, three outsiders from the community forms a strong dynamic within the novel, and highlights their essential difference in moral character to their fellow residents in the village, as each becomes embroiled in a long standing conspiracy to protect the guilty. Equally, the police protagonists Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein, add texture to the plot, not only through their professional interactions with the villagers, but in the portrayal of their own private lives. This is particularly effective with von Bodenstein, as problems within his marriage have a more than noticeable effect on his ability to remain focused on the investigation. The integration of the officers’ private lives sits very naturally within the whole story and adds another rich seam of interest to the reader that is neither hackneyed or intrusive and I would certainly be keen to read other titles by Neuhaus featuring these police characters.
So in conclusion, a German crime author providing a good counterbalance to the iron grip of the Scandinavian genre, and a pleasing one at that. My only slight quibble is the American feel to the translation which did jar a little after a time, but in the grand scheme of things this didn’t really matter as the confident plotting, brilliant twists and exceptional characterisation proved a winner with me. Roll on the next one…
Nele Neuhaus is one of the most widely read German mystery writers. More than three million copies of her books are currently in print. Visit the author’s website here: http://www.neleneuhaus.de/ (translation facility available) Follow on Twitter @NeleNeuhaus- and also on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/neleneuhausbuecher
Read Marina Sofia’s review of Snow White Must Die here: http://www.crimefictionlover.com
(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)