Source: Review copy
Publication: 4 March 2021 from Orenda Books
My thanks to Orenda Books for this advance copy for review
Twenty floors above the shimmering lights of the Hamburg docks, Public Prosecutor Chastity Riley is celebrating a birthday with friends in a hotel bar when twelve heavily armed men pull out guns, and take everyone hostage. Among the hostages is Konrad Hoogsmart, the hotel owner, who is being targeted by a young man whose life and family have been destroyed by Hoogsmart’s actions.
With the police looking on from outside their colleagues’ lives at stake and Chastity on the inside, increasingly ill from an unexpected case of sepsis, the stage is set for a dramatic confrontation and a devastating outcome for the team all live streamed in a terrifying bid for revenge.
Crackling with energy and populated by a cast of unforgettable characters, Hotel Cartagena is a searing, relevant thriller that will leave you breathless.
Nobody writes quite like Simone Buchholz. Her prose is whip smart, taut, poetic and hard-boiled all at once. Her protagonist, Chastity Reilly is fierce, feminist and always looking to challenge conformity – an interesting position for a public prosecutor.
Chastity Reilly is a woman in a man’s world and she’s giving no quarter. Uncompromising, she values her friends and their loyalty above all and brooks no opposition. She won’t be told what to do or how to behave and she lives her life on her own terms, whatever that costs her.
Hotel Cartagena can be read as a stand-alone, but do yourself a favour and read the whole series because there is character development and one or two things that happened in previous books will enhance your understanding.
An adrenalin fuelled thriller, Hotel Cartagena also has some pretty deep social observations to make that cut through the cool that is normally Chastity, because when she burns, she is incendiary.
As this novel opens, Reilly and her tight knit group of friends, many of them police, are gathering in the panoramic bar of a splendid new hotel on the Hamburg waterfront. Only Ivo Stepanovic is not with them. He intends to go there to help celebrate Faller’s 65th birthday, but first he has to steel himself. He doesn’t really want to be in a room with Chastity and other men, especially when he knows she has recently been close to at least one of them, and one is a former lover. He doesn’t want to feel this way, but he just can’t help himself. And then suddenly they are in the midst of a spectacular hostage-taking: a dozen armed men hold everyone in the bar hostage. What they want isn’t clear. Knowing it would be madness to reveal themselves, Chastity and her colleagues can only watch and wait.
Utilising a dual timeline, Buchholz lays out the genesis of the siege and tells us the story of a young man, who travels to Colombia and Curacao after being drawn into the drugs trade because that’s the only way he can ever hope to make any money. It’s a tragic story in the course of which the young man loses everything, though never once has he stopped to consider the impact of those drugs on other families, but that’s another story.
Now though, revenge is the order of the day and as Chastity eyes up the hostage takers and wonders which would be good lovers, she is unwittingly slipping into sepsis as a result of a cut to her hand from a particularly razor-sharp piece of pineapple leaf. So her usually sharp mind is in overdrive now and her brain is processing differently, sometimes speaking to her in verse, but never losing the point, just throwing things into technicolour relief.
Chastity’s inner monologues are riveting as she speculates about the hostages and her carousel ride harks back to the important things that have happened in her life and those of her friends, too. It’s a moment of reckoning, even if hallucinatory.
But this is not an episode of Die Hard, whatever the Alan Rickman dedication will have you thinking, and Ivo is not Bruce Willis (though the Number One gunman may well have attributes akin to Rickman judging by his impact on Chastity). As Stepanovic desperately tries to think up ways to rescue Chastity who by now he knows is really unwell, he is prepared to risk everything to get inside and come to her aid.
As events come to a horrifying climax, there’s a reckoning to take place and you just know that these events are is going to impact big time on Chastity and those she loves. Some injuries never heal.
Buchholz’s writes like she is firing bullets and Rachel Ward’s stunning translation is a thing of wonder and beauty. Even the chapter headings have an arresting, poetic quality.
Verdict: I fall in love with Simone Buchholz’s writing every time I pick up one of her books. It is stylish, very beguiling and yet incredibly honest and impactful. This series is utterly unmissable.
SimoneBuchholz 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.