A Year of Orenda – Blue Night by Simone Buchholz

I’ll admit that when I first read Blue Night two years ago (two years!!!), it took a little bit of getting used to the styling. It’s very unique but it’s also very clever. Simone Buchholz has given us a series which takes an alternative view of criminal investigation from a character who is not necessarily as clean cut as she should be. I loved it. Before I take a look back at the book and my first thoughts, here’s what it’s all about:

About the Book

The hair stands up on the back of my neck and I get an age-old feeling in my belly. Like there’s a fight ahead. Like something’s really about to go off…

After convicting a superior for corruption and shooting off a gangster’s crown jewels, the career of Hamburg’s most hard-bitten state prosecutor, Chastity Riley, has taken a nose dive: she has been transferred to the tedium of witness protection to prevent her making any more trouble. However, when she is assigned to the case of an anonymous man lying under police guard in hospital – almost every bone in his body broken, a finger cut off, and refusing to speak in anything other than riddles – Chastity’s instinct for the big, exciting case kicks in.

Using all her powers of persuasion, she soon gains her charge’s confidence, and finds herself on the trail to Leipzig, a new ally, and a whole heap of lethal synthetic drugs. When she discovers that a friend and former colleague is trying to bring down Hamburg’s Albanian mafia kingpin single-handedly, it looks like Chas Riley’s dull life on witness protection really has been short-lived…

Fresh, fiendishly fast-paced and full of devious twists and all the hard-boiled poetry and acerbic wit of the best noir, Blue Night marks the stunning start of a brilliant new crime series, from one of Germany’s bestselling authors.

Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Googleplay | Apple Books

My Thoughts

I thought it then – I still think it now: this is quite an unusual book. The styling of it, the way in which the central story, told in Chas’s voice, is interspersed with small chapters told from different perspectives, does take a bit of getting used to. Partly this is because, in the early days of the story, we do not know who a lot of the characters are. As the story progresses, as you learn more of what is going on and get to grips with the characters who are key to the plot, this all falls swiftly into place and makes perfect sense. In a weird kind of way I even started to look forward to the little interludes. Short and sweet they really drive the action forward. It is a truly fresh narrative style which slowly lays out an intriguing and complex story.

I don’t really know much about the German legal system and so trying to see where everyone fit together, especially Chas in relation to the regular Police and her jurisdiction on the investigation took me a while to work out. This is a story which takes the reader on a very unexpected ride, many diversions taken due to official and gang related roadblocks, which bring the reader slowly but surely back to a surprising central thread. The story begins when Chas is, in essence, given babysitting duties over a victim of quite extreme violence, a man very reluctant to answer questions about himself, never mind his assailants. Not one to be put off, Chas decides to find out for herself just who this man could be and who attacked him, an task which brings her surprisingly close to home as well as taking her to the far reaches of Eastern Germany and an unexpected investigation.

The protagonist Chastity ‘Chas’ Riley is one I was immediately drawn to, a strong and ultimately engaging character in a richly drawn world of vice. She is an ultimately flawed character who acts first and perhaps thinks things through later. However I had a true respect for her and was happy to follow her through the story. As the lion’s share of the book was told in her voice, it is essential you can bond with her as a person and the humanity, the normality, of her character, even an edge of vulnerability that shows in her reluctance to truly open up to others, makes this possible. She is not Wonder Woman and this is not a one woman crusade against the bad guys. Each of her friends and colleagues has their part to play in getting to the truth. But she is tenacious, she is believable and she is, most importantly, likeable.

This is my first time of reading about the darker side of modern day Germany, the seedier side they don’t tell you about in the glossy tourism brochures but one which is reminiscent of any major city across the globe. Drugs, murder and violence are all a part of this story, not in a particularly gruesome way, but the threat is always just bubbling under the surface. Most of the action takes place away from any police station, a lot of it happening in the bar which Chas’s lover runs, or the hospital in which the mysterious man is still laid up as a patient. And perhaps because of this the action has that certain edge. It’s not gritty, not necessarily dark in tone, although there is little by way of hope in the story itself ,with the central theme actually quite depressing when you get down to basics, but there is just something. It’s really hard to describe but I really liked it. I’m certainly keen to read more.

As I said before, the narrative styling of this book is very unique but don’t let it put you off. That fog you think you are blinded by when you first start reading will lift and everything will suddenly become clear as day. And this point is where you will start to smile as you realise what a truly clever thriller this is. All credit to Rachel Ward too as the translation of this book is seamless, making the direct first person narrative of Chas, and the other assorted characters, just fly.

Definitely a highly recommended read if you want your thrillers more direct, straight-talking but still laced with a strong vein of humour.

About the Author

Simone Buchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen-School in Hamburg. In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award as well as runner-up for the German Crime Fiction Prize for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.

Follow the author on Twitter.

Books in the Chastity Riley Series:

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