Ursula P. Archer aka Ursula Poznanski: Five – Fünf (2013)

fivefunf

Last year I read Ursula Poznanski’s YA thriller Erebos and liked it a great deal. When Lizzy mentioned that one of Poznanski’s crime novels for adults had been translated, I knew I had to read it. Not that I read it in English, of course not, but it’s always nicer to review books that have been translated.

Five – Fünf, the first in a series, introduces detectives Bea Kaspary and Florin Weininger of the Landeskriminalamt in Salzburg, Austria. They have been called to an unusual crime scene – a cow pasture. A woman has been found dead. Her hands tied in the back. She has been thrown from a small mountain overlooking the pasture. On the soles of her feet, they find a tatoo of strange numbers, which turn out to be coordinates. Those will lead them to a severed hand and more co-ordinates, which lead to another body part and other coordinates. The second set of coordinates aren’t added in the same straightforward manner as the first. They can only be found after the detectives solve a riddle for which they need to find someone. As if finding body parts wasn’t bad enough, the people who are the clues to solve the riddles, get killed as soon as they have been found by the police.

Five is very well done. It’s extremely suspenseful and, like in her YA novels, Ursula Poznanski/Archer uses a type of game or hobby – in this instance geocaching. I’d never heard of it but it seems that the author herself is a dedicated geocacher. Geocaching uses coordinates and hiding places. On a website you find coordinates and can then hunt a hidden object. The objects are often hidden in beautiful places. So it’s a bit of a mix between hiking and some sort of treasure hunt. It’s a trademark of Poznanski’s writing to use such modern-day games/technology as a base—computer games, live role-playing, drones . . .

I can’t say too much but although this sounds like a serial killer story, it’s not. Nonetheless, it’s quite gruesome in places.

Since this is the beginning of a series, the characters are very important. The detectives are very likable and well drawn. Bea is a mom of two, newly divorced from a bullying husband and still deeply traumatized by something that happened in her past. Florin is single but just started to date someone. That’s important because Bea clearly has a bit of crush on him. They work very well together, are almost friends. Bea is rather unconventional and gets into trouble with her superiors while Florin looks out for her and defends her.

One could call Five a crime novel with thriller elements. It’s very suspenseful and should appeal to many different crime readers – those who prefer thrillers, those who like a mystery, and those who love police procedurals. It has Poznanksi’s trademark mix of likable characters, impeccable pacing and contemporary feel. None of her novels could have been set at another time. I like that. She explores many themes in this book but they are tied so closely into the motive for the murder that I cannot say too much. If you’re looking for a suspenseful page-turner and love crime series, give this one a try.

If you’d like to find out more about geocaching – here’s a link.

Ursula Poznanski: Erebos (2011)

Erebos Poznanski

Are you playing the game – or is the game playing you? A highly addictive thriller about power, manipulation and revenge.

‘Enter. Or turn back. This is Erebos.’

Nick is given a sinister but brilliant computer game called Erebos. The game is highly addictive but asks its players to carry out actions in the real world in order to keep playing online, actions which become more and more terrifyingly manipulative. As Nick loses friends and all sense of right and wrong in the real world, he gains power and advances further towards his online goal – to become one of the Inner Circle of Erebos. But what is virtual and what is reality? How far will Nick go to achieve his goal? And what does Erebos really want?

Enter Erebos at your own risk. Exciting, suspenseful and totally unputdownable.

I must honestly say, when Lizzy suggested Erebos as her readalong title, I wasn’t thrilled. I couldn’t tell you why. Certainly not because it’s a YA novel. Maybe because I wasn’t sure whether it was some sort of fantasy or a realistic thriller? And because I was worried about the writing. Some recent German thrillers that have made it into translation were anything but well written. Imagine my surprise when I detected that Erebos wasn’t only well-written but so gripping and believable, I couldn’t put it down. It might be the thriller of the year for me. Unfortunately for this review, part of the appeal is that we don’t really know what’s going on. Is it realistic? Is it fantasy? Science-fiction? I don’t want to say too much. Only that I think it would appeal to anyone, whether you like more fantastic stories, or only read realistic novels.

So what’s it about? At a school in London, students exchange a computer game. Those who play it are not allowed to talk about it. Those who don’t, either want to be part of what feels almost like a secret society, or they openly hate the game.

Nick is at first one of those who don’t play the game. He watches his friends and is worried. What happens to them? Why are they sucked into this game like this? Finally someone passes the game on to him and he tries it out. Initially, he’s skeptical but that passes quickly and he, like all the others, is sucked into the world of Erebos.

Being addicted to a game might be bad enough, but this one seems to have an agenda of its own. It seems to know the players and their secrets and uses this against them. Part of the game are assignments in real life, and soon the virtual danger become very real.

I deliberately kept this summary very short because, as I wrote earlier, part of the appeal is discovering what’s going on.

Nick is a great protagonist and we root for him. He’s likable but flawed and undergoes important changes.

I really loved how Ursula Poznanski described the world of the game and the addictive part was shown in a very believable way. Once the assignments in the real word start, an entertaining read turns into an eerie thriller. I couldn’t stop reading, wanted to find out what was behind it all. So often thrillers have disappointing endings. Here again, Erebos is an exception. It’s pitch perfect from beginning to end. A must read for those who love YA novels and for fans of original, futuristic thrillers. I’m not surprised that Erebos has won the Deutscher Jugendbuchpreis, the German prize for Children’s Literature. It’s captivating and topical.

I finished this book before the attacks in Paris but meanwhile, I’ve heard that the terrorists also communicate via computer online games. A communication that’s particularly hard to decipher. All of a sudden, Erebos his even more topical. It certainly has a lot to say about addiction, manipulation, and retribution. Don’t miss it.