In her eerie Grimm’s fairy tale-themed police procedural, German writer Nele Neuhaus’s investigators Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein begin a journey that will take them from the scene of a senseless murder to the highest levels of society, where money and power facilitate both anonymity and the freedom to act with impunity. While the German weather is unseasonably hot, adding to the steaminess of a frustrating investigation, the internal temperature of Hofheim’s Kripo murder unit increases as well, more information breeding suspicion where once there was trust.
It begins with the discovery of a sixteen-year-old girl’s body washed up on a river bank outside Frankfurt, an unidentified victim who remains so, even after weeks of inquiry. Then a popular TV host takes over the headlines, brutally attacked, locked in the trunk of her car and left for dead. Through the tangential threads of these two separate investigations, Neuhaus builds a plot that delves into the very fabric of society, with more explosive implications than are suggested by the discovery of the body. The brutal death of the nameless victim is outrageous enough, but the addition of the attack on TV personality Hanna Herzmann, once it is linked (albeit with slender threads) to the dead girl, suggests a minefield of complications for the detectives, mixed motives, random suspects and an element of organization that serves to protect names and facts meant to remain secret.
The detectives of Dr. Nicola Engle’s Kripo squad work nonstop, including forensic pathologist Dr. Henning Kirchhoff, Pia’s ex. The elusive identity of the murder victim, while yielding few solid clues, does provide a list of suspects and the possible association to a past case. Significantly, Hanna Herzmann’s attack gradually leads to the identification of key figures as two apparently individual cases soon bear the frightening hallmark of a sophisticated organization. The bond between Pia Kirchhoff and von Bodenstein has been critical, trust in one another a vital part of the team’s success. But when Kirchhoff suspects Oliver may have kept secrets from her, information that directly affect progress in this investigation, she begins to wonder who she can trust.
Neuhaus liberally salts her thriller with personalities, from Kirchhoff’s private life and on-the-job interactions to the colorful, outrageous TV host known for a take-no-prisoners attitude in pursuit of a story. Rounding out the array are Hanna Herzmann’s acerbic, chronically unhappy daughter, Herzmann’s closest confidant on the show, a newly-released pedophile living on the fringes of society, a wealthy family funding an organization for abandoned and homeless children, and a conscientious state attorney who has made the murder his highest priority. The pieces fall into place like a collapsing row of dominoes, the police unfortunately one step behind the perpetrators. The truth, begun with the careless disposal of a murder victim, is far more entrenched and uglier for its viability in society highly, wealth and connections making the prosecution of such criminals all the more difficult.
Children take center stage in the novel, whether begging parents to take them to the zoo, complaining of bad dreams, adding joyful shouts to boring grownup gatherings, forming a youthful choir—or sobbing in terror. Neuhaus peels back the facade of modern society, layer by layer, the “big Bad Wolf” leaping from the pages of a fairy tale, all too real to the little victims without voices. Neuhaus speaks for them.