Title: Schneewittchen Muss Sterben (German); Snow White Must Die (English)
Author: Nele Neuhaus
Publisher: Ullstein Buchverlag (German edition); PanMacmillan Australia (Australian edition)
Read: January 07 - 14, 2013
Skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony and lips as red as blood... But this is no fairy story...
In a small town in Germany a boy is accused of murdering a beautiful girl. But does a "wicked queen" lurk in their midst?
On a September evening eleven years ago, two 17-year-old girls vanished without a trace from the tiny village of Altenhain, just outside Frankfurt. In a trial based on circumstantial evidence 20-year-old Tobias Sartorius was convicted and imprisoned for the murder of his childhood friend Laura and his beautiful girlfriend Stefanie – otherwise known as Snow White.
After serving his sentence, Tobias returns home. His presence in the little German village stirs up the events of the past. Events that the locals would prefer to remain hidden. When the Sartorius family is subjected to a number of attacks, Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff and DS Oliver von Bodenstein are tasked with monitoring the tense atmosphere in the tight-knit community. As the village inhabitants close ranks it becomes apparent the disappearance of Snow White and her friend was far more complex than imagined.
Then history starts to repeat itself in a disastrous manner when another pretty girl goes missing. The police are thrown into a race against time. Will they be able to save her, or is she destined to die?
After reading reviews of Snow White Must Die, I was instantly intrigued – especially as this was an author new to me, and one I could read in two different languages. I decided to download the German version and read it in its original format, partly to help set the scene and get absorbed in the book’s atmosphere. And I was not disappointed – this author is now firmly on my TBR list!
The novel opens with the release from jail of a young man convicted of murdering two 17-year-old local girls, and his return to his small hometown Altenhain, where despite having served his ten-year sentence he is not welcome. During Tobias Sartorius’ absence things have changed for the worse for his family and friends – his father’s restaurant has had to close after villagers blackbanned him for being the parent of a murderer; his parents’ marriage has suffered under the strain and his mother has left town to start a new life where nobody knows her; and his best friend has not been in contact with him since the night of the murders. Only his old childhood friend and girl-next-door Nathalie, now a famous actress and known as Nadia, has been faithful to him all these years.
Tobias’ release triggers some dark forces in the village – his mother is mysteriously thrown from a railway overpass and Tobias himself is bashed by masked intruders, who threaten to kill him unless he leaves town. Things come to a head when another young 17-year-old, Amelie, who has met Tobias and bears a striking resemblance to one of the dead girls, vanishes. Amelie’s disappearance and the discovery of the body of one of the dead girls Tobias was convicted of killing ten years ago prompts a renewed police investigation into past and present crimes, involving detective team Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein, who detect some inconsistencies in the old murder files and the circumstantial evidence used to convict Tobias. Whilst struggling with issues in their own personal lives, Pia and Oliver reopen the old files, and get soon drawn into the village’s dark and sinister secrets.
With Snow White Must Die, Neuhaus has created a thriller with so many clever plot lines that it is truly impossible to guess the outcome – and a cast of interesting, flesh-and-blood characters who each bring their own demons into the story. I was totally engrossed in this book from the very first to the last page, and could not rest until I had unravelled the mystery. Neuhaus’ insight into small town politics as well as the dark forces of human nature which motivate people to turn a blind eye to injustice, or worse, conspire to obstruct the path of justice, was eye-opening and drove the story all the way. Neuhaus is clearly familiar with the setting and its people, and her descriptive writing soon draws the reader into an atmosphere of lies, corruption, cruelty, violence and conspiracy.
For me, there were a few minor inconsistencies in the story and a couple of loose ends, which could possibly be explained by this book being the fourth in the series – but the first to be translated into English. Whilst the first part of the book built tension and suspense, the story dragged a little bit in later sections with the different agendas of the many characters involved, and the many parallel storylines introduced – however, it did not lessen my enjoyment of the book. Kirchoff and Bodenstein make a solid, intelligent and likeable detective pair, and I will definitely not stop here but am looking forward to getting my hands on the other books in the series – sometimes being bilingual is very useful!
To sum it up in one sentence, Snow White Must Die is a well-rounded, cleverly constructed and totally addictive police procedural with an engaging pair of detectives I am sure we will hear a lot more of in the future.