Beton Rouge by Simone Buchholz – a grim picture of the edge of life in Hamburg

A memorable series of crimes, a contrary investigator, a view of downtown Hamburg, this atmospheric mystery novel is an interesting slice of life from a very different perspective. Chastity Riley is an anti – hero of surprising depth and feeling, even if along very different lines from many fictional crime investigators. This is life on the other side, not merely observed but lived, tough and exacting, challenging on every level. While some of the characters are wealthy and powerful, here are people who do not even pretend to conform; the forces of law and order personified by Riley  is not clean and efficient, but sleepless, on the edge, and fuelled by cigarettes and alcohol. Presented at a pace which is fast and sometimes brutal, this translated novel is a powerful picture of European life which is far from the tourist experience. I was very interested to receive a copy of this novel to read and review.

The first scene is of a fairly horrific traffic incident in which a woman dies, then a brief indication of harsh treatment. Chastity Riley opens her narration with a picture of her departure from her apartment. Sparsely furnished, it offers little comfort, a sentiment echoed by the weather outside. She is summoned to a brutally unusual crime scene, as a man is confined in a cage, in poor physical shape, for an unspecified reason. As a Public Prosecutor she goes to the scene and liaises with the attending police officers, surrounded by hostile witnesses. It transpires that the captured man is an unpopular member of the management which has been involved in several schemes of attack on the employees of the firm in the offices standing behind the crime scene. To increase the impact of the crime, a Serious Crime Officer called Ivo Stepanovic arrives, and Riley discovers that she must work with him to find the motive and offender concerned. All is far from what it seems however, as we witness Riley’s confusing private life, her undefined relationships, her tastes in alcohol and unconventional lifestyle. A lead on the identification of a possible motive takes them to Barvaria, which seems the epitome of unfriendliness. As they jointly try to investigate horrendous crimes and adopt some unconventional methods, they compare their views of life and the ways they cope with the desperate scenes which form part of their jobs. As they find some similar habits and obsessions, the situation deteriorates.

This is a powerful read with much to say about the side of life which would be too unconventional for many, and too dark and desperate for most. It a surprisingly bleak book, offering a hopeless picture of the lives of many only partly relived by appropriate music. It is nevertheless a compelling and gripping read, which kept me involved and interested through the short chapters which reflects the pace of lives lived on the edge. Chasity Riley is a memorable and unlikely heroine, sometimes more observer than protagonist, constant commentator and unpredictable character. I found this a challenging read, to be recommended for its consistency and power, and having a unique style.

 

 

Last night we went offer to Soho House in Birmingham. It is where the Lunar Society used to meet in the 1700s to conduct meetings and experiments. We went to hear Dr Kate Croft speak on the Women of the Lunar Society, and have a guided tour of the house from the perspective of Anne Boulton who lived there. It was an excellent talk, featuring women who were the exact opposite of the characters in the novel above! We are such culture vultures…

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