People keep secrets, the powerful perhaps best of all, considering the privilege that accompanies great wealth. In Neuhaus’s latest thriller, The Ice Queen, the murder of
92-year-old Jossie Goldberg is only the beginning of a mystery that delves into German history circa World War II and the machinations of a dictator whose actions have reverberated through generations. Detective Chief Inspector Oliver Bodenstein and Detective Pia Kirchhoff soon learn that this first murder has troubling connections to a powerful family headed by matriarch Vera Kaltensee, eighty-five, a close friend of the elderly victim.
Another murder that follows soon after is also connected to the family.
That the murderer of both elderly men is the same is without doubt, but a cryptic list of numbers and a tattoo worn by Hitler’s elite SS troops suggest a darker, uglier motive beyond the usual scandals that plague society. Yet there appears
to be no reason for the senseless deaths, especially since both Goldberg and Vera Kaltensee are revered for their contributions to healing Germany’s rifts after the war, both actively involved in humanitarian work
and with impeccable credentials.
When Bodenstein’s superiors, fearing political ramifications, favor closing the investigation after pressure from the Goldberg family in America and the CIA, the Chief Inspector and DI Kirchhoff appear to acquiesce, meanwhile quietly continuing their investigation. The discovery of the incriminating tattoo on Goldberg’s arm has raised too many questions of historical import. Later, when an elderly woman is taken from care at an exclusive facility and brutally murdered, events and coincidences become impossible to ignore, too many unanswered queries leading back to the Kaltensee family. Eventually it becomes necessary to expand the investigation, random murders and violent attacks escalating, though the detectives have little but their suspicions and incomplete theories to navigate through a maze of deceptive tactics.
Neuhaus excels at this type of thriller. Liberally salting the story with eccentric personalities, wealthy family members determined to close ranks, and a curious press on the scent of a big story, she painstakingly lays the groundwork for a tale born in East Prussia before World War II.
Characters and motivations are artfully balanced, each playing a critical role in the unfolding drama. In particular, Pia Kirchhoff’s personal life--her divorce from brilliant forensic anthropologist Henning Kirchhoff and current relationship with Christoph Sander--gives this conscientious detective a complexity that adds even more drama to the case and its explosive secrets.
While based on heinous actions in wartime decades ago, the novel is contemporary in its sensibilities, peopled with believable and conflicted personalities with common faults and frailties. Bodenstein’s privileged upbringing gives him a certain cache among society’s elite, the low-key Kirchhoff, without attracting attention, able to observe the behaviors of those adept at maintaining composure. The revelations of the unfolding plot offer a fascinating view of past and present, including such anomalies as a collection of Nazi paraphernalia found in the basement of one murder victim that belies his dedication to a new Germany and the diaries of a woman in East Prussia on the cusp of the Russian invasion--a reminder that survival can justify the basest of actions, money and power ensuring secrecy indefinitely. A great lie, begun in death and horror, is ultimately discovered, one more act of ignominy exposed in a thriller that is powerful, beautifully plotted and memorable.