Title: Dead Calm
Author: Inge Löhnig
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Read: April 2017
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Read: April 2017
Expected publication: 18 May 2017
When the body of a retired paediatrician is found dead in his holiday cabin, all first signs point towards a burglary gone wrong. But Detective Konstantin Dühnfort has his doubts. Wolfram Heckeroth suffered an agonising demise, slowly dying from thirst and heat exhaustion whilst bound to a radiator with his own belts, unable to free himself. The nature of the crime appears so unnecessarily cruel that it doesn’t sit right with Dühnfort. As he looks deeper into the man’s past and talks to his family, it soon becomes apparent that the role of respectful doctor has been a facade, hiding a dark side that may have made the good doctor many enemies. It seems that there have been many victims of his cruelty who would have a motive for murder – including his own children.
I love discovering new interesting crime series from around the world, and welcomed the opportunity to read Dead Calm, which is set in Germany. And even though it took me a little while to get into the story, since all the members of the Heckeroth family are just so unlikeable, this well constructed mystery slowly but gradually drew me in and kept me captivated. Detective Dühnfort is an engaging main protagonist who really intrigued me, and with a cliff-hanger ending I know that this will not be the last in the series for me. I was happy to see that there are already six books out in the KommisarDühnfort series (of which Dead Calm is the 2nd, and so far the only book translated into English), which hints at a lot of reading pleasure yet to come!
Dead Calm is told from the different viewpoints of various protagonists, including some of the victim’s adult children and their spouses, as well as Detective Dühnfort himself. Not having read the previous book in the series, I loved discovering little snippets from Dühnfort’s own private life, which fleshed out this character into a sympathetic investigator who is longing for love and a family of his own. He would like nothing more than to settle down and marry his lover Agnes, but the woman’s traumatic past always gets in the way of happiness. Dühnfort balanced out the thoroughly unlikeable characters of the Heckeroth family, whose actions must be seen in the context of the whole story to be able to muster up some empathy. Exploring the dark side of family dynamics and love gone wrong, the story carries a sinister undertone that sets a somewhat disturbing scene, reminiscent of the stark honesty of Nordic noir. I loved the way the investigation slowly unfolded, from Dühnfort’s initial impression of the victim:
An old man who had a good relationship with his children. One son came up for a barbecue, the other to fix a drain – a solid family. And now, abruptly, it was missing its anchor.
To an altogether different picture, of a narcissist who took advantage of women, cheated on his wife and played his own children off against one another. Of his many victims, who finally took their revenge?
Set in Schwabing, Germany, Dead Calm is a well-constructed murder mystery based on complex family dynamics and carrying the sinister and somewhat disturbing undertones of hidden secrets and love gone wrong. Not afraid to expose the darkest corners of the human psyche, it is all the more disturbing in that it features everyday, ordinary people and respected pillars of society. Realistically drawn and somewhat dark and disturbing in its honesty, it should appeal to lovers of Nordic noir looking for a new crime series with a sympathetic investigator in a European setting.
You don’t make a bad thing better by not calling a spade a spade. Yes, you do, he thought. Words are like colours. We paint over the truth with them, make the ugly sublime and a muddy trench a field of honour, turn the cruelty of death into a patriotic act. It’s the only way to bear it.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel and giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.