Introducing Nele Neuhaus – German Crime


Nele Neuhaus has just been published for the first time in English (Snow White Must Die) and I thought that was a good opportunity to see for myself what this highly acclaimed German crime writer has to offer. Neuhaus entered the German crime scene with her self-published  novels. They were so successful that a big German editor bought them and re-edited and re-published the first ones and now her later novels too. Her very first book was a standalone called Unter Haien (Among Sharks), the second was the first in a series. What has currently been published in English is the fourth volume in the series with Chief Inspector Oliver Bodenstein and his colleague Inspector Pia Kirchhoff.

I like to start series with the first book and since I read German, I bought it to find out what the fuss was about. There is a new crime writing star every few years in Germany, some like Charlotte Link have been popular for years, others, like Neuhaus are new. At the moment, whenever Neuhaus publishes a book, it will be a huge success with hundreds and hundreds of amazon reviews.

Now on to the book. In German it’s called Eine unbeliebte Frau – An unlikable woman. A young extremely beautiful woman is murdered and the inspectors soon find out that she had a lot of enemies. It’s a classic whodunnit. As I said, I read the first in the series and it became quickly obvious why the English editor went for no. 4. I enjoyed it, I thought it was very gripping but not in a manipulative, cliffhanger-at-the-end-of-every-chapter kind of way. Rather in a laid back way. I liked that. What didn’t work so well was the way the two inspectors were introduced. It seems this gets better from book to book. They are a bit pale in this one. Bodenstein less than Kirchhoff but still, they don’t feel like characters in a series yet but rather like inspectors in a standalone police procedural.

The story as such is gripping. There are at least 6 or 7 suspects and it takes almost the whole book to make clear what happened. I liked that.  I also liked what little we get to know about Kirchoff and Bodenstein, despite the fact that they are a bit pale, not very charismatic.

The setting of the books is the Taunus region, near Frankfurt. Frankfurt is one of the biggest German cities and also one with a high crime rate. There are quite a few crime series and novels set in this town, the best known are certainly the Kayankaya novels by Jakob Arjouni who just died a few weeks ago. Choosing the Taunus region, and not the big city was a deliberate choice. It allows much slower stories and to integrate one of the core themes of the series, the wish of the two main characters to start a new life which should be less stressful and closer to nature.

While this may not have been the most exciting crime novel I’ve ever read, nor is it literary – the writing gets the job done, it’s not refined -, it’s still a solid police procedural. It is well constructed and with a nice pace. I thought it was a promising start to the series which introduces good-natured characters, and I know I’ll read another one sooner or later. For English readers the good news is that it seems you can start with no. 4 and you will not miss out too much. No. 6 in the series has just been published in Germany. If you like your crime gripping but not too fast-paced, this is a good choice.


Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games (2008)

I bought The Hunger Games long before even part II and III were out but never read it. Too much hype. Not that there is less of it now but I’d like to watch the movie and figured, I should read the book before. I finished it in barely two sittings and even spent one night dreaming of it.

I went through a few different phases while reading it and finally I had to admit that a lot of the problems I had with the book were entirely mine and resulted in some misconceptions. Sometimes we expect something from a book or a movie that isn’t there. I’m not the only one, I saw this reflected in a few of the reviews I’ve read so far. This isn’t a poetical fantasy story, nor a subtle YA coming-of-age novel. The Hunger Games is a dystopian adventure/action story. Following the logic of adventure and action movies and books, there isn’t a lot of introspection. Switching from Virginia Woolf’s world of characters with a rich inner life, I felt a bit lost at first but once I saw the book like a new take on an old theme, namely gladiators in a dystopian setting, I started to enjoy the ride.

A modern-day gladiator novel is pretty much what The Hunger Games is. When you’ve learned Latin in school you are familiar with the expression “Panem et Circenses” meaning “Bread and Games/Circuses”. The story plays in a distant future, in America, in the country of Panem. There are a lot of other elements taken from roman history: the Capitol, some of the names like Octavia, …

The 24 tributes of the 12 districts of Panem, 12 boys and 12 girls are sent into an arena where they fight against each other until there is only one survivor left. The games are not only shown on TV but they must be watched. The questions the book could have asked but only brushes is “Would you kill to survive?” and “How does it affect you to be forced to witness killing on a regular basis?” or “Are these killings murder?”.  The book can lead to this type of discussion but it doesn’t really look into those questions at all.

Katniss, the main character, volunteers in order to save her sister. She prays that her best friend Gale isn’t going to be sent in with her. Since there can only be one survivor it would mean she might have to kill her best friend. The boy chosen instead, Peeta, isn’t a much better choice as he saved her life once. She can only hope that either she or Peeta will be killed by someone else before the last fight.

The arena is a vast landscape with forests and lakes, bushes and caves. The game masters can change the weather, they can send wild animals, ice and storm, fire and frost. This adds to the difficulties. Only those who are skilled in all sorts of survival techniques, those who know how to hunt and hide will make it.

It is a quick read and I was captivated, not so much because I wanted to find out who will survive, no, there was no suspense in that department. It’s pretty clear from the start but it isn’t clear how they will survive. And I was interested to see whether Katniss would have to kill someone as well. And if and how it would affect her.

The Hunger Games is a page-turner, exploiting and re-inventing the gladiator theme, with some surprising ideas thrown in but I still have a few reservations.

Did there have to be a love story and did it have to play such an important role? I’m not going into details as that would be a major spoiler.

And the writing? That was a problem. I’m not a native English speaker and can be more tolerant occasionally but nothing could make me miss the fact that it’s not very well written. There is a constant use of present tense, hardly any subordinate clauses, a very limited vocabulary and a lot of repetition. I’d like to emphasize here that this isn’t typical for YA novels or dystopian novels. I’ve read several that were very well written.

As I haven’t read Battle Royale, I can’t compare but the violence in The Hunger Games is minor. Nothing very shocking. It’s more the thought that they are so easily ready to kill each other that is shocking.

I think, if you know what to expect, you will enjoy this novel as it is fast-paced, captivating and I personally liked the main characters. Just don’t expect anything poetical or introspective. The emphasis is on action not on ideas or feelings.

Will I read the next one? I have already started.

If you would like to read other reviews here is the link to Iris’ very interesting post. She has included a huge number of other reviews.

Kelley Armstrong: Bitten (2001) A Werewolf Thriller

Elena, heroine of Kelley Armstrong’s impressive debut thriller Bitten, never planned that a casual sexual encounter would transform her into a werewolf. Neither did Clay, her lover and one of the leaders of the exclusive werewolf clique known as the Pack; women do not generally change or survive if they do. Elena’s considerable reservations about her new life come to a head and she walks out on the Pack to return to something like normality, finding herself a boyfriend who turns a blind eye to her occasional disappearances in the middle of the night. She may have done with the infighting of werewolves, but they have not done with her; her former family call her back when they find themselves under threat from those they have excluded and dominated. Kelley Armstrong is very good on the sheer exhilaration of shape-changing, of running on four feet through forests, suburban greenery and urban back alleys; if there is a weakness here, it is that Elena’s relationship with the taciturn, untrustworthy Clay is sometimes a little too conventionally romantic–but the dark poetry of the best of the book overcomes this entirely.

I must admit if it hadn’t been for Kailana I would never have read Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten but some of her reviews of the Women of the Otherworld series were so enthusiastic, I simply had to try it.  And to be honest “A werewolf thriller” sounded somewhat intriguing. I was not disappointed. Besides, my late grandmother being from Brittany, I grew up with werewolf tales and did belive them until my late teens. But this is not the reason why I liked it. I liked it because I could identify with the heroine. She is such a realistically drawn person. A strong woman who grew up in foster homes, looking for a family, a home, security but never seems to get it. The years alone have hardened her. But then she meets Clay. Beautiful, intelligent, mysterious Clay who offers her everything she never had. Who even goes to a lot of pain to offer her her first proper Christmas and who takes her to Stonehaven, the home of his family, Jeremy, Antony, Nick, Logan and the others. And then the unthinkable happens. He bites her. The only secret he has kept from her, that he is a werewolf, is a fatal one. Normally no one survives a werewolf bite. Only the strongest do. And there was never a female werewolf. Elena is the first.

At the beginning of the novel, Elena lives in Toronto with Philipp. She has left Stonehaven and the pack. She doesnt’ want to be an outsider of society, she wants to fit in, lead a normal live. One day however she gets a call from Jeremy, the Alpha male of the pack. Someone is threatening the pack, wants their territory and has started killing innocent people. She is reluctant to go back at first but finally  gives in. Once she is there she realises how much she missed them. Especially Clay. The novel is action packed and fast paced. There is not only one other werewolf who wants to harm them, there are many. And they eventuallly start to kill the men from the pack. If they want to survive, they have to stick together and fight as one.

Elena fights alongside her men. As said before, she is a strong person. I would wish her as a role model for young women. Powerful and determined. What really surprised me is the writing. Did you ever want to know what it would feel like to be a werewolf? The writing is so detailed, and descriptive that you might very well have the feeling you know what it is like to smell with the nose of a wolf, to tread and run with the paws of a wolf, to hunt and to race through the forest at night. The character development of Elena is interesting too. At times I totally forgot I was reading Fantasy. The core theme is “being true to yourself” and that is certainly a theme anyone can relate to.

As you see, it is very entertaining. A werewolf thriller with a touching love story and a strong heroine. Bitten is the first in the series of Women of the Otherworld. I am not very keen on series but I might read the next one sooner or later.

Any series you like or would suggest?