Source: Review copy
Publication: 21st February 2019 from Orenda Books
On a warm September morning, an unconscious man is found in a cage at the entrance to the offices of one of Germany’s biggest magazines. He’s soon identified as a manager of the company, and he’s been tortured. Three days later, another manager appears in a similar way.
Chastity Riley and her new colleague Ivo Stepanovic are tasked with uncovering the truth behind the attacks, an investigation that goes far beyond the revenge they first suspect … to the dubious past shared by both victims. Travelling to the south of Germany, they step into the hothouse world of boarding schools, where secrets are currency, and monsters are bred … monsters who will stop at nothing to protect themselves.
From the moment you read the dedication in Simone Buchholz’s Beton Rouge, you know you are in for a treat. After Blue Moon, my first Chastity Riley book, I knew I liked this whip smart protagonist. Now, having read Beton Rouge, I have the most massive #girlcrush.
Simone Buchholz has an extraordinary and very effective writing style which grabs you from the beginning. Her use of figurative speech is nothing short of poetic and her imagery jumps out of the page and kisses you deeply on the mouth.
To the story. On her way to the pub, State Prosecutor Chastity Riley passes the scene of an incident in which a young woman, fatally injured, was the subject of a hit and run. It’s a sight and an incident that Chastity finds it hard to let go of. The violence here is short and sharp but it resonates and lingers.
Then, in front of the city’s largest publishing house police have found a man in a metal cage. He is naked, has been tortured and perhaps most horrifically, passers-by have been spitting on him. He is the Publishing House’s Personnel Manager. Maybe the unions have finally had enough of people being laid off while executives stuff fat bonuses into their pockets and have cracked?
A few days later a second cage is found, this time containing the Publishing Director. It looks to Riley and her colleagues as if someone is out to skewer the company executives. All the victims can tell them is about a shadowy figure, one reminiscent of the dementors of J.K. Rowling’s imagination. But as Chastity and her new colleague, Ivo Stepanovic of the Serious Crime Office 44, question the survivors, they find another connection between them; one that leads back to an earlier time and a boarding school in Bavaria. When the CEO disappears Ivo and Chastity will delve deeply into the past where monsters dwell.
Underlying this story is a strong sense of existential gloom. Around Chastity, everything is changing and this is having consequences for her and her friends’ hitherto free bohemian lives. Rocco and Carla are fighting. Klatsche is distant and he and Chastity don’t seem to be able to talk. Faller is abroad texting rays of sunshine which bounce off the dementors’ shroud that surrounds Chastity. Even Inspector Calabretta, who also becomes involved in this case, has something to hide from her. The one certainty in Chastity’s life, her circle of friends, is evaporating.
Into this void comes Ivo Stepanovic, a tall, angular detective. Ivo is a man who, as he tells Chastity, is unable to live in anything but the present. He has a bone crushing handshake, a vintage Mercedes with screeching brakes and a penchant for playing melancholy piano jazz in pubs. It will be interesting to see what impact Ivo has on Chastity’s life. The idea of a woman who finds the present an alien space linking up with a man who knows no other space than the present, offers a host of interesting possibilities. That’s assuming neither of them dies of cancer first, the number of cigarettes they smoke.
With a brilliant title, fabulously punchy chapter headings and a style and wit to die for, Simone Buchholz cuts a crystal clear path to Chastity’s world view and in so doing, opens our eyes to cruelty, inequality and a political world view that resonates deeply.
Verdict: With prose that zings, this is terrific contemporary literature and compelling story telling. Would I bet on rouge? You bet I would.
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, and second place in the German Crime Fiction Prize, for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months.
The next in the Chastity Riley series, Beton Rouge, won the Radio Bremen Crime Fiction Award and Best Economic Crime Novel 2017. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.