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Taut teaser a good introduction to German crime fiction

AND now for something completely different with a truly gripping thriller from a source not previously sampled.

After years of immersion in the tide of Scandi Noir, I am stepping out into fresh fields with a switch to German Noir.

Well, completely different and fresh for this reader, although no doubt it has been flourishing at home and abroad for quite some time.

After all, the Germans have long been renowned as voracious devourers of crime fiction across its many sub genres. So it is natural to assume there exists also a pool of home-grown crime fiction talent.

And here is a fine example to support such a view. This taut teaser by Romy Hausmann – her first book – definitely suggests there are many other good reads waiting to be discovered in Deutschland. Although one swallow doesn’t make etc etc ….

Dear Child (Quercus hardback, rrp £12.99) is a twisting tale that starts with the sudden disappearance of student Lena Beck, leaving not a trace.  From this opening riddle, the pace rarely lets up, piling bafflement upon bafflement all the way to a slightly drawn out and needlessly preachy finale.

The brief opening paragraph suggests the familiar missing person theme. Which it definitely is.

But it rapidly becomes so much more, luring us into a maze of lost and mistaken identity intricately woven into a multi-layered narrative.

Who is the broken and bloodied woman rescued from a car crash and now being rushed to hospital,  her young daughter by her side? From what follows, she could be the missing student, but this is several years on.

The daughter, a precocious 12-year-old takes up the narrative, providing more questions than answers. A situation not helped when the mysterious Matthias takes over, offering another point of view and introducing the shadowy Karin – or is this the name he has foisted upon her?

Hannah reappears as narrator, revealing the existence of a younger brother and, much later, the birth – and mysterious death (did she even exist?) – of a sister, Sara. This opens up another branch of a trail  that the police belatedly decide needs far closer investigation than they previously applied.

Later, some of the gaps in the sequence of events are filled by a Jasmin, whose reliability as a witness is as questionable as that of all others involved.

The stench of domestic abuse, deprivation of liberty and mental perversion gradually seeps out from the forest hideaway central to the main characters’ lives.

As they relate their versions of events we get glimmers of enlightenment but are then plunged back into the fog that clouds and confuses us. Would the real villain please reveal themselves; or is there more than one?

Yet everyone’s story is credible; each makes sense even if it fails to mesh with the overall picture.

It is a compelling read, drawing you in, urging you on with its concise and  clear-cut prose and its well-drawn and distinctive characters. Hypnotic in its appeal, a truly gripping thriller.


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