Opposite Poles: Nele Neuhaus and Laura McHugh Sunday, Apr 13 2014 

German Nele Neuhaus and American Laura McHugh are two writers who couldn’t be more different in their writing or their settings, yet both of their works use setting to their advantage to add to the stories they want to tell.

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Nele Neuhaus returns with Bad Wolf, the second in her series that started with last year’s Snow White Must Die. Set in Frankfurt and featuring Inspectors Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodonestein heading their team, the usual police procedural takes on a darker tone despite the nod to Grimm’s fairy tales in Neuhaus’ titles.

It’s hot in Frankfurt in June when a sixteen-year-old girl’s body turns up on a river bank outside of town. Despite the brutality of her injuries, her identity remains unknown and no one turns in a missing person report. Pia’s team is frustrated for weeks and then a new case takes precedence. A television reporter who’s become a known personality is attacked, raped, and locked in the trunk of her car, barely surviving.

Pia suspects the reporter’s investigations into a popular child welfare organization, run by an old, established family with an untarnished reputation, may provide the key to the woman’s attack.

Then a link is drawn with a child pornography ring, and overruns into both inspectors’ personal lives. This chilling tale has a huge emotional component as the different subplots connect. Well-crafted and engrossing, it’s an unpredictable and multi-dimensional book that will hook readers from the start.

Neuhaus started out selling her self-published books out of the trunk of her car before becoming Germany’s top crime writer. Don’t miss this powerful psychological thriller based on a police procedural.

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Laura McHugh’s debut The Weight of Blood is a totally different kind of crime novel, yet every bit as disturbing. Told from the viewpoints of Lucy Dane and Lila, her mother who disappeared when Lucy was a child, the action revolves around the the murder of one of Lucy’s friends, the slow-witted Cheri.

The setting this time is the tiny village of Henbane, deep in the Ozark Mountains. Filled with strange ways and customs, and a fear of strangers, it’s an area the modern world has almost passed by. McHugh manages to make the landscape come alive, and the story is inspired by a true incident that took place in the Missouri town where the author went to school.

Small wonder then that its authenticity rings so true. Readers will be drawn in immediately by the voice of Lucy and then by that of her mother, Lila, a young woman whose destiny is not hers to decide. Lucy is haunted by the mystery surrounding Lila’s disappearance and by the murder of young Cheri. Here is McHugh in Lucy’s voice describing her emotions when Cheri’s body is found: “…Boys our age, the ones at school, were cruel. They called her a retard and make her cry. I told her to ignore them, but I never told them to stop, and that’s what I remembered when Cheri’s body turned up in the tree: the ways I had failed her.”

That sense of failure will drive Lucy to investigate Cheri’s death, while not forgetting her mother, and the result will call into question everything Lucy thinks she has come to learn about family and secrets.

This is beautifully written novel that will suck you in from its opening as the story gains momentum to its powerful conclusion. No spoilers here: read it yourself and you’ll find you’re flipping pages well past bedtime.

ALSO RECOMMENDED: Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman. This debut follows young widow Nora Hamilton, trying to make sense of the suicide of her police officer husband, a man who loved her, his job, and their Adirondack town–and died without leaving her a note of explanation? A taut and believable mystery.

Hard Going: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles newest Bill Slider crime novel brings back his family and partner in a complex mystery that interrupts his vacation week. A retired solicitor, known for his good deeds, has been bashed in the head with a statue in a frenzied attack that will have them searching into the man’s past for the culprit. Highly satisfying.

Hunting Shadows: Inspector Rutledge returns in Charles Todd’s sixteenth book in the post WWI series. The countryside of Cambridgeshire finds Rutledge to town to locate the murderer of a man at the doorstep to Ely Cathedral, on his way to a wedding. After a second murder, one witness’s description leaves the locals convinced a madman is on their doorstep. Great period details and a intricate plotting are the hallmark of this series.

AND NEW IN PAPERBACK: Jane Casey’s The Last Girl, the third DC Maeve Kerrigan novel. Compared to Tana French or Denis Mina, Casey’s series twists and turns through the investigation of the murder of a wealthy defense attorney. But was this a disgruntled client, or does the truth lie closer to home?

Nele Neuhaus: Snow White Must Die Sunday, Jan 6 2013 

German author Neuhaus is making news with the first English translation of a police procedural that will surprise readers and introduce them to a new detective duo to follow.

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Actually the second in the series, the international best seller features Detective Oliver von Bodenstein, troubled and distinctive, and his partner, Pia Kirchhoff. In this first US import, the Grimm fairy tale describing Snow White becomes a refrain to the story Neuhaus tells of 30-year old Tobias Sartorius. It opens as he leaves prison after serving ten years following the disappearance of two teenaged girls last seen in his company. Having no recollection of most of the events of the evening, his time in prison has been tortuous as he’s come to accept he must have murdered the two girls, despite having no memory of the night in question.

Of the two missing girls, the dark-haired Stefanie Schneeberger had been cast to play Snow White in the local play. On the night the girls disappeared, she was supposed to have broken off her dating relationship with Tobias.

Returning to his small home town, Tobias is shocked to learn the pretense his parents maintained while he imprisoned. They’ve lost their business and separated, and while his father still lives on in the same house, the town has made the family pay for what they feel is Tobias’ murder of the two missing girls by outcasting his parents and damaging their property, with continued harassment.

When Tobias’ mother is pushed from a pedestrian bridge onto the hood of a car below, the two detectives investigation is met with stony silence from the villagers. Then a young girl disappears, and the past seems to be repeating itself. With the villagers certain Tobias is to blame, his life hangs in jeopardy as the Oliver and Pia race against time to find the truth before the villagers take matters into their own hands.

This is lively nuanced mystery, with increasing suspense, and well-crafted characters. The effects of gossip, the use of local power, and the idea of keeping up appearances for outsiders will all be explored, even as Oliver and Pia have their own domestic issues barging into their hectic days. The novel is surprising at times as the events kick up and the pace surges ahead. Readers will become addicted to turning pages as the story engages them. Neuhaus lets them in early on a secret to that they have more information than the detectives, a device which serves to nicely up the suspense factor.

The well-drafted thriller will allow readers to see why Neuhaus is Germany’s top crime writer. In Europe the sixth in the series is in print, and readers here in the US can only hope the translators are hard at work to bring us the next installments of this complex and widely-read crime writer.

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