April 2019 Blue Night: Crime novels which buck expectations

Book Cover: Blue Night
Cover © Orenda Books

Crime fiction isn’t necessarily always known for its sense of humour but Christopher Brookmyre’s darkly witty detective novels – focussing alternately on investigative journalist Jack Parlabane, and private investigator Jasmine Sharp – buck genre expectations for a number of reasons. There’s no question that they provide everything a reader might want from a good detective story: satisfying puzzles, a convincing backdrop (Brookmyre’s eye for details is often hilariously on point), plenty of twists and red herrings, and the assurance of an equally satisfying solution at the end of each book. Refreshingly though, particularly in the Jasmine Sharp mysteries, Brookmyre shies away from the cliché of detective as a cynical (typically male) lone wolf, confiding only in a single (typically female) associate. The result is a series of acerbic, fast-paced crime novels which offer surprises in all of the right places.

Fans of Brookmyre could do worse than checking out Simone Buchholz, a star of the German crime lit scene who has been deftly translated into English by Rachel Ward. Buchholz first appeared in English in 2017 with Blue Night, a Hamburg-based thriller following public prosecutor Chastity Riley, with the book’s sequel, Beton Rouge, just out now. In a genre more frequently dominated by doorstoppers, both books are surprisingly slight, just shy of 200 pages. Complex and tightly plotted though, they nonetheless pack plenty in.

Like Where the Bodies are Buried (the first of the Jasmine Sharp mysteries), Blue Night is motivated by drug smuggling and the murky politics of a city’s established gangs. And like Brookmyre’s detectives, Chastity Riley is a proverbial breath of fresh air against the model of the hardboiled and misanthropic fictional sleuth. Sure, she has an unhealthy tendency to drown her sorrows in alcohol, but Blue Night partly comes to life through Chastity’s network of relationships – a group of colleagues and friends who clearly care not just about but for each other. Even away from crime fiction, which continues to lean a bit too much on the Holmesian tradition of the solitary genius, it’s refreshing to find a novel which puts as much weight on friendships as it does on romantic relationships.

Blue Night is also startling for its use of language: sometimes witty, often gorgeous, always strikingly original. Ward’s translation manages that acrobatic trick of using enviably inventiveness in order to capture Buchholz’s voice – I particularly enjoyed the image of a heavy downpour easing off until “it’s only drizzling puppies and kittens now.” Ward also works in just enough of the German colloquialisms to give a taste of the Hamburg milieu, which feels particularly fitting given the setting in the city’s infamous Reeperbahn.

Interestingly, Blue Night is actually the sixth book in the Chastity Riley series, despite being the first to be translated. I really hope its predecessors soon follow it into English.
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