“A kick in the right kidney brings you to your knees.
A kick in the belly, and you go down….”
This matter of fact description of a professional beating related by the victim is perfectly pitched. A low-key introduction to a delicious thriller that is fast, exciting and stylishly. Buchholz is a strong new voice in Euro-noir fiction and her creation, former detective Chastity Riley, is a great character. I was hooked by those early lines, it’s a nod to classic hard-boiled crime, but Blue Night is a very contemporary tale of gangsters and drugs. Even though it is deliberately downplayed for effect, this vicious attack on one man by three criminals, contemptuous of the law, begins to mark the dark territory we are stepping into. Blue Night, or Blaue Nacht in the original German, offers real insight into the dilemmas of modern European society. Synthetic drugs are cheaper, easier to produce and more profitable on the streets of Hamburg than heroin or cocaine. Albanian gangster Malaj has a plan to bring in the biggest consignment of synth drugs ever seen in the city. This mirrors the terrifying menace afflicting many urban settings across the continent right now. The scenes near a Leipzig school are desperately sad. However, the thriller never slacks or becomes preachy and the tension is palpable. The anonymous nature of the victim in the hospital, who won’t say what happened or who did it, builds anticipation in the story. The inadvertent involvement of one of Chastity’s friends in the massive drugs deal make things very personal and very complicated. Personal loyalties come into conflict with the need to tackle the city’s most violent gangster.
Chastity Riley has a new job, she’s grateful for that, but she is also bored by the prospect of working in Victim Support. Still, things could have been much worse. Chastity left the police force under a cloud following an incident in which she saved her colleague Calabretta but it cost a suspect dearly, luckily no charges followed. She’s on her way to St. Georg hospital to interview a man brought in the night before, he was dumped in Schmilinskystrasse after a beating. A professional job; arm, legs, ribs, skull, a near fatal work over. When the victim comes out of his coma he isn’t talking. Chastity calls him Joe, she guesses he’s Austrian, she likes him but she knows he’s holding onto some very dark secrets. Eventually, Joe gives Chastity two clues to go on. First, he tells her he has a box in a Swiss bank vault with explosive information that will come out if he dies. Second, he gives here a contact in Leipzig, from the West Saxony Narcotics Investigation Team, a man who can explain all about “Krokodil”. Chastity Riley relies on a few close friends, she lives with Klatsche, who owns the Blue Night. Then there’s Faller, Carla, Rocco and Calabretta, they have all migrated to Hamburg, they are cops or partners, now firm friends (their histories are revealed as the novel unfolds). When Chastity is not trying to solve the mystery posed by Joe, she is supporting her friends. The tight relationship between the friends is the dynamic that drives the novel. Calabretta is struggling to get it together after the incident when Chastity lost her job and Faller is thinking of taking revenge on Malaj for killing his girlfriend many years before.
Simone Buchholz is from Hanau near Frankfurt but lives in Sankt Pauli, Hamburg. She has created a cast of characters that I could imagine bumping into in the centre of the city. There are shades of Jakob Arjouni in her writing but she has a truly original voice. A style that is instantly pleasing to the noir fan. The mix of disparate characters, the blurring of the lines between people on either side of the law and the pent up desire for revenge are all qualities that remind me of the best Mediterranean noir (in the spirit of Jean-Claude Izzo and the current master, Massimo Carlotto). No city is exclusively one thing, Hamburg, particularly with the Reeperbahn and crime, is an amalgam of people, and cultures and lifestyles – Buchholz conveys the cosmopolitan feel beautifully. The group of friends at the heart of the novel are a gang, wonderfully realised characters, it is easy to see that they will be the spine of future Chastity Riley novels for good or ill, and I really look forward to that. Blue Night is a fast paced noir that tackles some serious and contemporary issues, while delivering a full on entertainment. Chastity Riley is a strong modern woman, she is affected by the dislocation of the city, but she has her friends, she looks after them, she is formidable and independently minded.
When I finished Blue Night I went straight to the web to find out if Buchholz had published any more ‘kriminal roman’ in the Chastity Riley series and she has. I was pleased to see that Orenda will be publishing Beton Rouge in February 2019. I’ll be there.
Paul Burke 5/5
Blue Night by Simone Buchholz
Orenda 9781912374014 pbk Feb 2018