Thursday, August 16, 2018
Review: Blue Night by Simone Buchholz tr. Rachel Ward
Reviewed by Lynn Harvey.
(Read more of Lynn's reviews for Euro Crime here.)
“Driving through the countryside alone is like eating sellotape.”
Public prosecutor Chastity Riley’s car coughs and dies somewhere near Mecklenburgh. Since she accused her boss of corruption and shot off a gangster’s family jewels with an unauthorised firearm, Chastity has been sidelined into witness protection – and protection is all she is allowed to do, no investigating. So this country-weekend thing has been an attempt to break the monotony. It hasn’t worked. Now she has to get back to Hamburg for a case and she really needs a lift. Faller, with his big, 1970s, mid-life crisis totem Pontiac, is the one she chooses (all of her other friends being asleep, driving-license free, or out of it). She calls Faller, takes her bag out of her car and sets off down the road in the direction of Hamburg. Later, in that city’s St Georg Hospital, she stares at her unconscious client. He is smashed up badly. Ribs, arms and legs broken and a missing index finger. She holds his huge paw of a hand until night-time then takes a taxi home. Klatsche is making cheese sandwiches to go with the beer. Lifesaver.
Summer of 1982:
Faller: “I still visit Minou’s grave. A girl from the red-light district who died because I wanted her.”
Riley: “Frankfurt glows gold, orange, pink. We ride bikes. I wear my Dad’s American Army shirts. I miss my Mum.”
Klatsche: “I haven’t been born yet.”
Joe: “Hey. Hamburg.”
Hamburg, present day:
Klatsche is out shopping, stocking up his bar “Blue Night”. Chastity returns to her flat to shower then on to forensics at Police Headquarters to examine her client’s clothes: a good made to measure suit, no label; British shirt, American shoes. Upstairs she visits her friend Calabretta who has been locked into himself since his girlfriend dumped him for a Swiss professor. But now, Chastity is thinking that the life is returning to his eyes. Next, to size up the place where her client was attacked. It must have been a gang, no way could it have been a one man job. That evening, whilst baby-sitting Calabretta at Carla and Rocco's cafe, an activity which involves a lot of booze, Calabretta remarks that he thinks Faller is up to something – maybe wanting to go after The Albanian again.
Faller: “Homicide Squad. I’m new here. A lot of death since coke hit the red-light district.”
Riley: “Why is everyone falling in love?”
Joe: “I mostly work in St Pauli, quick and quiet.”
Hamburg, present day:
The hospital calls Chastity at 5.30 am, the patient is awake. Chastity however is very hungover. The police guard outside her client’s room nods her through when she presents her pass. Her client stares at her. Chastity thinks he was more charming unconscious. When he does speak, his accent is Austrian. He says his name is Joe...
BLUE NIGHT is the first of prize-winning crime writer Simone Buchholz’ “Chastity Riley” series to be published in the UK. Its lively, true-feeling translation by Rachel Ward allows this tale of bars, beers and the nightlife of St Pauli in Hamburg to read well at a brisk pace. Chastity is the daughter of an American serviceman stationed in Germany, brought up by him after her mother left them. By the time of this book she is only just hanging on to her job as a public prosecutor after having exposed some inconvenient truths in the department. She is bored, persona non grata and barred from investigating. But she is also surrounded by a network of friends with equally chequered backgrounds to buoy her up – hence the bars, cafes and beers. It goes without saying that when landed with the job of “protecting” a badly beaten giant of an Austrian who is giving nothing away, Chastity cannot resist some of that forbidden investigating. Who attacked him and why? The investigation takes her to a new contact in the old East, in Leipzig, and a glimpse of the devastation caused by the latest cheap, virulent drug heading in Hamburg's direction.
Buchholz quickly establishes her characters and their individual voices: the ex-jailbird bar owner, a broken hearted cop, an ex-cop with a vengeful eye set on the local crime boss (now “retired” and untouchable) who killed his girlfriend years ago, and an injured Austrian stoic with a missing finger. But it goes without saying that the predominant voice in the story is that of unorthodox, street-savvy and very likeable Chastity. Written with a sense of place, a fresh voice, and a fast pace.
Lynn Harvey, August 2018