This is the third in the author’s series of crime novels featuring her protagonist, Hamburg state prosecutor, Chastity Riley.
A series of seemingly random arson attacks on vehicles is sweeping Hamburg. When the latest is found to contain a man trapped inside, who later dies, and it transpires that he’s related to an immigrant crime family, Chastity is put in charge of the homicide investigation. What follows is a story that could be lifted right out of the news. During the European migrant crisis of recent years, Angela Merkel’s government allowed a large number of refugees into the country. As with any population, while most were hardworking people who just wanted to get on with their lives, and build futures for their children, a minority were involved in criminality. This is the thread that runs throughout this novel, and thus as well as being a very good crime thriller, Mexico Street also tackles a contemporary issue that is very much at the forefront of German political discourse.
I’ve followed the Chastity Riley series from the start, initially due to its location. I first visited Hamburg when working in documentary television. A few years after 9/11, I was working on a documentary about the Muslim Brotherhood and the links some of its members had to the al Qaeda Hamburg Cell. I spent a good few weeks in the city tracking down interviewees. I got to know Hamburg pretty well – it’s more salubrious neighbourhoods, and it’s less so – and the city has a real atmosphere and personality that I fell in love with. It’s also the perfect setting for crime fiction. For Hamburg has it all: a banking district; high priced housing for the rich; canals that run throughout the city; a port (which ranks third only to Rotterdam and Amsterdam in importance in Europe); the Reeperbahn, a notorious red-light district; and poorer neighbourhoods, some of which have attracted infamy (the Al-Quds Mosque, which Mohammad Atta and the other members of the Hamburg Cell of 9/11 attackers attended, was situated in another red-light district near the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof rail station).
Throughout the series, and not least this latest outing, the author has really captured this mood, and her noir style of writing is absolutely suited to both the location and the characters. This is most evident with the heavy smoking, hard-drinking, protagonist Chastity Riley. But as with the previous books, Mexico Street contains a compelling and well-drawn supporting cast, both a smattering of regulars from the previous titles and the antagonists new to this novel.
Mexico Street, like the author’s previous titles, is a brilliant crime novel. If you’ve ever been to Hamburg, this is a book for you. If you haven’t, but like a crime novel with a real sense of place, and set somewhere that hasn’t too often featured in crime fiction, then this is a novel for you. Or if you just like your noir pitch black and treacly like the strongest of coffee, then this novel is for you.
James Pierson 5/5*
Mexico Street by Simone Buchholz
978-1913193157 Orenda Books Paperback March 2020