Source: Review copy
Publication: 17 March 2022 from Orenda Books
My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review
Mired in grief after tragic recent events, state prosecutor Chastity Riley escapes to Scotland, lured to the birthplace of her great-great-grandfather by a mysterious letter suggesting she has inherited a house.
In Glasgow, she meets Tom, the ex-lover of Chastity’s great aunt, who holds the keys to her own family secrets – painful stories of unexpected cruelty and loss that she’s never dared to confront.
In Hamburg, Stepanovic and Calabretta investigate a major arson attack, while a group of property investors kicks off an explosion of violence that threatens everyone.
As events in these two countries collide, Chastity prepares to face the inevitable, battling the ghosts of her past and the lost souls that could be her future and, perhaps, finally finding redemption for them all.
It’s a risky business setting your novel largely in another country and another city. One where the language is different and very specific to that city and where the art is in creating the sense of the city and its people rather than in geographic exactness. Simone Buchholz has succeeded in doing this in spades. Kudos to her and her translator Rachel Ward for never putting a foot wrong.
River Clyde is not the book you should read as an introduction to Chastity Reilly, State Prosecutor in Hamburg. At the very least you should read Hotel Cartagena which is the catalyst for many of the actions in this novel.
The fall-out from events in Hotel Cartagena is immense. In Hamburg, Chastity’s friends are huddled in the Blue Night trying to come to terms with their grief and the devastation that has been wreaked upon them. There’s a serious outbreak of arson and the team are tasked with tracking down the perpetrators, but this is secondary to their need to come to terms with the emotional and psychological fall out of what has happened to them all. While Ivo teams up with Calabretta on a stake out, they bond over Fortnite and talk inevitable turns to Chastity…
Chastity has been holed up by herself, spending days lying on her back in the park, chain smoking and speaking to no-one. The team are rapidly finding that she is their centre and without her, things do fall apart. It’s made even worse when Chastity decamps to Glasgow after receiving a letter telling her she has inherited a house.
Simone Buchholz beautifully captures the sense of dislocation that Chastity feels as she approaches the questions of who has left her this property, why and how that connects to a personal history that is full of loss and grief. On top of her recent loss and soreness from grieving, her experience feels hugely emotional; it’s like she is screaming into a void.
Glasgow is a great place to do that. Short on speech, big on recognition of lost souls, it welcomes Chastity in and she quickly finds her way around from Partick to the East End, from the Doublet to the Great Eastern Hotel.
But it’s the people she connects with. It’s as if they recognise her emotional void and welcome her in, saying little but creating a mood where she can stand and drink and feel a little less alone.
River Clyde is a stylised piece of writing that is full of hurt; a world of emotions and a depth of longing that cries out to be comforted. No-one creates a mood like Buchholz and in Glasgow she has created a sense of dialogue and stylised interaction that is true, clear and perfect.
The sparseness of the lyrical dialogue invokes an almost spiritual sense, even as Reilly is drinking a hauf and a hauf in a sticky floored pub while Johnny Cash sings mournfully in the background.
But it is outside Glasgow that Chastity’s life turns to a more spiritual experience. Heading to her inheritance on the Gare Loch, she learns more about her family history and we understand the world of hurt that she has experienced as a young girl and how that has led to her building up a solid shell of sarcasm and hard living.
Now, in Garelochhead, where the water is still and the air serene, she opens up decades of repressed emotions, and out pours a world of hurt and a world of love. It’s the culmination of everything she has been through and her heart opens and lets in all the love as she lets out all her grief. It’s intense. It is immense. It is so emotional and it is profound.
You don’t come to this novel looking for a traditional police procedural. This is the culmination of the combined experiences of a team who have seen some of the worst excesses of man’s inhumanity to man and we are seeing it play out now through the loss they have suffered which is hard for each of them to bear. There’s tremendous perceptiveness in this writing and still a good helping of that deadpan wit and sarcasm that keeps Chastity going through the dark times. Overall, though, this a raw, hurting Chastity whose silent screams I could hear down the Gare Loch, across the Clyde and into the East End where they bounced off my walls straight into my heart.
Verdict: This is such wonderful prose. What a rare talent we have in Simone Buchholz.
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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.