Source: Review copy
Publication: 5th March 2020 from Orenda Books
Hamburg state prosecutor Chastity Riley investigates a series of arson attacks on cars across the city, which leads her to a startling and life-threatening discovery involving criminal gangs and a very illicit love story…
Night after night, cars are set alight across the German city of Hamburg, with no obvious pattern, no explanation and no suspect.
Until, one night, on Mexico Street, a ghetto of high-rise blocks in the north of the city, a Fiat is torched. Only this car isn’t empty. The body of Nouri Saroukhan – prodigal son of the Bremen clan – is soon discovered, and the case becomes a homicide.
Public prosecutor Chastity Riley is handed the investigation, which takes her deep into a criminal underground that snakes beneath the whole of Germany. And as details of Nouri’s background, including an illicit relationship with the mysterious Aliza, emerge, it becomes clear that these are not random attacks, and there are more on the cards…
There are so many reasons to love Simone Buchholz’s work. She has a tremendously ironic brain, from the name she gives to her principal characters through to the wonderful chapter headings that are mini works of art in themselves.
Her prose is taut and sometimes poetic, sometimes so hard-boiled that it hurts to read it and often both combined. Chastity Reilly is a woman in a man’s world and chapter by chapter she’s making it a woman’s world too. Uncompromising, just a little bit lonely and with no patience for anyone but the best in her life, she hand picks her friends and kicks her enemies in the balls every chance she gets.
Reading a Simone Buchholz book is like watching a film by Nicholas Ray or Fritz Lang. You know there’s something very special going on and occasionally elements of the surreal will creep in, but underneath there’s a damned good story with brilliant characters and a surprising amount of heart. The writing though….this is writing that sparks and crackles as it unsettles the reader with unpleasant truths and dark behaviours; behaviours that occur day in, day out across Europe and the world.
In Mexico Street, public prosecutor Chastity Reilly is dealing with a rash of cars that have been set on fire in Hamburg. It’s nothing new. That sort of thing happens everywhere, it’s just that this time, the car had a man inside and he’s now dead. Chastity and Ivo Stepanovic from Special Forces investigate Nouri Saroukhan’s background as part of determining why he was killed. They learn a great deal about the Saroukhan clan, their rise to prominence as gangsters and the way in which they treat those who do not follow their orders.
This element of Mexico Street has a strong emotional core and its impossible not to be swept up in Nouri and Aliza’s story and to recognise the sheer strength of Aliza’s character as she does what she has to stay under the radar.
But there’s more going on in Mexico Street than gangs and tribalism. There’s corruption and plain evil oozing out of the financial sector that makes gang beatings and gorilla like male dominance look like an honest approach. (but not sufficiently, obvs).
Around Chastity is a team that shifts and changes. Old friends return, new people come in for Chastity to be rude to and break in while she learns their strengths and weaknesses. The dynamic of her relationships is slowly changing and this is having an impact on those around her, though her best quality apart from her toughness is her loyalty. Old friends will always matter and she will always gravitate home to her favourite bar after a bruising encounter.
Buchholz lets us into Chastity’s life a little more each time, but that hard shell, the one that houses the tough talking, hard drinking, always smoking prosecutor is still pretty impenetrable, even as she admits her loneliness to herself, if to no-one else.
Verdict: I am a real fan of Buchholz’ writing and I think Mexico Street is her best yet. Taut, well-plotted and a fabulous read, this is intense literary noir that is blacker than pitch and pitch perfect in tone. If you like noir, you will love this. Chastity Reilly is a force to be reckoned with. Long may she stay that way.
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 in 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.