REVIEWS FROM W. J. H. REED
POSTED DECEMBER 30, 2012
In modern day China, annoyances have a habit of disappearing. University professors in Manchuria who are too vocal about academic freedom become "Pioneers", ethnic Chinese resettled to Tibet to change the population mix of the country and link it more closely to the center. Gangsters from southern China are sent into internal exile as far from their familiar tropical homes as possible, Tibet. And, if you are a persistent Beijing homicide detective who looks too closely at the actions of high Party officials, you become the inspector of irrigation and sewage ditches in a remote Tibetan township.
The problem is that Tibet seems to inspire people to remain true to themselves. Lamas, monks and nuns continue to practice Tibetan Buddhism whether they have the required government permits or not. Prayer horns sound in the hills at night, ruined shrines are repaired and strings of prayer flags appear on the roadsides but the local police find nothing. Academics continue illegal intellectual pursuits, gangsters set up new smuggling networks, and a cop faced with multiple murders is still a cop, even with muddy shoes.
Shan Tao Yun comes upon three corpses at the site of a partially restored Tibetan monastery. An ethnic Chinese man with a massive bullet wound, an apparent European whose face has been literally carved from his skull, and a Buddhist nun shot in the back. The bodies have been carefully arranged and the ground at the crime scene painted to suggest the Chinese flag. The local political police believe this is the work of pro-independence Tibetan terrorists. Shan is not so sure. No Tibetan would commit murder on holy ground and certainly would not gun down a nun to make a political statement. Something else is going on here.
Eliot Pattison has written six previous Shan mysteries, award-winning combinations of well-crafted crime story and meditations on the slow death of old Tibet at the hands of brutal Communist Chinese oppressors. Shan is the bridge between the two, a shrewd Chinese detective who has been changed by Tibet, its people and religion into a different man who exists in a world where resettlement camps have as much substance as demons and healing images of the aspects of the Buddha painted on stone walls.
Shan is a tough-minded cop who won't give up on finding the truth. His struggles with what the truth means and how it will affect the country he has come to love make for compelling reading.
- W. J. H. Reed
POSTED FEBRUARY 28, 2013
Sandomierz is one of the most beautiful cities in Poland, a far cry from Warsaw, famed as the ugliest capital in Europe. For Prosecutor Teodor Szacki, however, it's a town in the sticks and he's not happy there. Transferred from Warsaw to the Sandomierz Prosecutor's Office, newly divorced and bored to tears, all Szacki hopes for is a juicy crime to break the monotony. A naked female corpse dumped outside the town's old synagogue with a kosher butcher's knife nearby and completely drained of blood is perfect.
oszewski's Szacki is a Polish Sherlock Holmes with Slavic melancholia overlaying a mind addicted to analytic facts and logic. Tall, thin, prematurely grey, Szacki works hard at displaying no emotion and only being interested in what happened and why. Unfortunately, he has a sharp temper, a biting tongue and no patience for fools. A nationally famous crime solver who is not afraid to let everyone around him know how good he is, Szacki is unlikeable but totally fascinating.
The idea that this might be a Jewish hate crime brings the press, the skin heads and crazies out in force. When a second corpse appears, also killed and drained of blood according to the painting's ritual, Szacki knows he must solve the crime quickly to prevent a riot or worse.
Mi ł oszewski gives a gritty picture of life in Poland, beautiful but scarred by the past and unable to forget or forgive. Szacki is the perfect man for this time and place and Mi ł oszewski makes him an unforgettable character, flawed but still the best available. Logic versus raw emotion and racial hatred makes for a memorable conflict and a great mystery. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
- W. J. H. Reed
Small towns never forget and never forgive. That's a problem for Tobias Sartorius. Convicted ten years earlier as a juvenile offender for the double homicide of two 17-year-old girls on the night of the village festival, Tobias has completed his sentence and returns home. Not a good idea. The townspeople shun him, his parents have separated and the family business has folded. Graffiti smeared on the house wall tells the world that a murderer of young girls lives here. Within hours of his return, Tobias' mother is pushed from a pedestrian bridge into rush hour traffic. Within days, another young girl disappears and the townspeople decide to take justice into their own hands.
Tobias always denied his guilt but testimony from townspeople and an unbelievable claim of an alcohol-induced blackout led to his arrest despite the fact that neither girl's body was ever found. Rivals for the lead in the school's play, "Snow White", the two girls had both been Tobias' girlfriend and were seen arguing with him on the night of the festival. Personal possessions found in Sartorius' possession provided all of the circumstantial evidence needed to convict. It now seems like the past is repeating itself and the townsfolk won't stand for it.
SNOW WHITE MUST DIE is the second book (but the first published in English) in Nele Neuhaus' proposed five-book series featuring detectives Oliver von Bodenstein and Pia Kirchhoff. Neuhaus, Germany's bestselling suspense writer, places her protagonists in the unusual position of defending, however unwillingly, a convicted felon and known killer. Her tight plotting and insight into the psyche of small towns makes SNOW WHITE MUST DIE an emotional roller coaster ride where each secret revealed casts a new light, and new suspicions about what really happened ten years ago, and increases the pressure to find the missing girl before the tragedy is repeated.
Bodenstein and Kirchhoff are both emotionally preoccupied. Bodenstein's marriage is falling apart and Kirchhoff's home is scheduled for demolition because of a zoning violation by a previous owner. These thoughts keep intruding on their investigation and inevitably lead to oversights and screw-ups, which have serious and possibly deadly consequences.
A police procedural with rare insight and emotional weight, SNOW WHITE MUST DIE is a great read and shouldn't be missed. I can't wait for the next translation.