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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

New Release: Review of "Woman of the Dead" by Bernhard Aichner

  2 Stars

This book, the first of a trilogy, has been a #1 bestseller in Austria so I requested an ARC of its English translation to be released on August 25.  I cannot understand why it was a bestseller.

Brünhilde Blum, the anti-heroine of the novel, is a mortician.  After the death of her adoptive parents, Blum is happy until her husband Mark, a police detective, is killed in a hit-and-run accident.  When she discovers that he was in fact murdered, she sets out to avenge his death.  To do so, she must track down five men who are responsible for that crime and other heinous acts as well (abduction, unlawful imprisonment, assault, rape, and murder).

It is the character of Blum that will immediately catch the reader’s interest.  She chooses to be called Blum, “Just Blum, because she hated her first name, she’d never been able to bear it. . . . A name that had nothing to do with her . . . A name that she had banished from her life.  Only Blum now.  No Brünhilde.”  And it is not just her name that she banishes; like a cross between Dexter and Lisbeth Salander, she has no difficulty removing people from her life.  She is a damaged individual brimming with hate and a desire for revenge. 

The book has a strong opening, but its initial promise is not kept.  The plot becomes very improbable.  Blum must find five men known only as the photographer, the priest, the cook, the huntsman and the clown, yet she manages to track them all down with minimal difficulty.  Everything just falls into place.  She is repeatedly able to break into homes and kill and dismember people without being caught; it’s almost as if she commits the perfect crime over and over because any problems are easily removed.  And she is able to do all this even when she takes unbelievable risks such as watching to see who will find a decapitated head she has left in a very public place.  She is successful even though abductions are not planned very carefully.  For example, only once a man has been abducted does she begin “looking for the perfect house, a house with a drive they can disappear down in broad daylight.” 

Some of the events make very little sense.  One minute a co-operative witness says he doesn’t recognize the name Dunya :  “’Don’t know her. There were so many of them, the whole staff hostel was full of foreigners. . . . I never paid attention to the names.’”  Then later he says that a particular man “’was often at the hotel when Dunya worked there’”?  A man described as the “village pastor” lives at the presbytery of the cathedral in Innsbruck?  He is abducted near his home but then his car, not used in the abduction, is found near the Italian border?  Someone intent on blackmail wouldn’t have extra copies of photos, especially in the age of digital photography?  Would a photographer bother printing photos when they can be kept on a computer?  One minute, Blum pleads with a man, with whom she has already had sex, “’I just want to see you,’” but then when they meet, she pushes him away, telling him “he must understand that she is thinking only of Mark.’”  She doesn’t expect this man to suspect her motives but she later worries that he is going to be suspicious of someone else whom he has no reason to suspect?  Would the smell of urine escape from a casket?  After gagging and tying up an unconscious person and wrapping blankets around him before placing him in a coffin, is it logical to put “tape around the casket to make sure there is no chance of escape”?  One minute, Blum learns about an actor’s whereabouts from “media reports” but then blames his “production company” for that information?

The writing style is weak.  Sometimes there are lengthy conversations between two people, conversations not interrupted with identifiers, so the reader has to keep track of who is saying what.  At other times, there is needless repetition.  For instance, at the end of one conversation, Blum observes that the man with whom she had spoken is not guilty:  “He didn’t know what she was talking about . . . He was surprised.  He racked his brain and found nothing, his astonishment was genuine.”  Later, after a second conversation, she thinks, “Briefly, she believed in his guilt.  But now she realizes that he had nothing to do with it. . . . His face had given that away.  In the restaurant and now here, his astonishment had been genuine, as had the confusion in his eyes.”  And I have rarely read about such expressive eyes and hands.  There are statements like, “She says these things without words, only with the touch of her fingertips” and “Blum knows that she has made a mistake, she was thinking only of herself; she knows she will hurt him if she tells him to go away.  She knows that, and his fingers can feel it” and “That’s what his raised hands say and his eyes” and “his eyes said no” and “Only his eyes say she reacted too slowly.”

I read the following statement about the author:  “Writing with breakneck narration and rapid-fire dialogue, Bernhard Aichner is poised to follow in the steps of Jo Nesbo, Camilla Läckberg, and Jussi Adler-Olsen to become Europe’s new breakout star in crime fiction.”  Having read and enjoyed Nesbø, Läckberg, and Adler-Olsen, I will be genuinely surprised if this prediction comes to pass. Something was lost in translation?

Note:  I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.