There are a flurry of leading female crime fighters at the moment, especially from Orenda Books, all of them with different voices, personalities and settings, all brilliant. Hamburg’s Chastity Riley written by Simone Buchholz may not be the best of them, but she’s in the top one.
This is the third in the Riley series and the writing is even more accomplished. It’s a police procedural in the same vein as Ed McBain but up to date and relevant to a modern Europe. Cars are burning, families are at war and the Hamburg police and their nearest and dearest are struggling on. None of them is capable of saving any of the others but if they all lean into the middle together then they can stay on their feet, just.
The people are one of the great strengths of the books. They don’t hide their faults or their pain, they just try to cope and be whatever they can be to each other, to keep them all going. Along the way they’re surprisingly effective at their jobs. Every day is a battle, pushing through the sleepless nights before, but they make it work. The coffee, the cigarettes, the shoulder to sleep on during an interrogation, the love that still survives amongst those who feel unable to love.
The other big appeal for me is the location that allows me to inhabit St Pauli, an area of Hamburg that fascinates me with its strong identity and values, in a way I likely never will in person. I’m much more the mild mannered janitor than Hong Kong Phooey, but Chas provides the disguise that means I can walk those streets, hang out in their bars and fight crime like I belong.
Ironically a fair portion of Mexico Street actually takes place in Bremen amongst the Mhallami, a tribe used to existing between established worlds and whose tightly knit clans live brutally alongside and in opposition to each other. Cars are burning across Germany but Chas couldn’t care less about burning cars, no one’s asking why the cars burn, no one’s dealing with the real issues so why should she worry about cleaning them up? Until one of the burning cars contains a body and then Riley gets involved.
Inside the car is Nouri Saroukhan, a member of the Saroukhan crime family of Bremen but now exiled from his family. So, what led him from Bremen to Hamburg? Who has decided that now he not only needs to be ex-communicated but dead too? And who is the red head who seems to be watching Riley and her colleagues as they investigate the crime scene?
The action shifts between Hamburg and Bremen as the team brings together old and new faces, old and new hang ups and foibles to both grate and reassure. That’s where a series like this comes into its own, great individual crime stories beautifully told but all tied together by a common strand of Riley, Stepanovic, Faller, Carla, Rocco, Calabretta, Klatsche. Oh and the Turkish Travolta is back in town too.
The writing doesn’t waste a word and the short sharp chapters squeezed into a little over 200 pages make it a quick but also deeply satisfying read. This is a character led series of crime novels that has me waiting on tenterhooks for each new instalment. Mexico Street was published on 5th March 2020 and you really should go get your copy now.
Hamburg state prosecutor Chastity Riley investigates a series of arson attacks on cars across the city, which leads her to a startling and life-threatening discovery involving criminal gangs and a very illicit love story…
Night after night, cars are set alight across the German city of Hamburg, with no obvious pattern, no explanation and no suspect.
Until, one night, on Mexico Street, a ghetto of high-rise blocks in the north of the city, a Fiat is torched. Only this car isn’t empty. The body of Nouri Saroukhan – prodigal son of the Bremen clan – is soon discovered, and the case becomes a homicide.
Public prosecutor Chastity Riley is handed the investigation, which takes her deep into a criminal underground that snakes beneath the whole of Germany. And as details of Nouri’s background, including an illicit relationship with the mysterious Aliza, emerge, it becomes clear that these are not random attacks, and there are more on the cards…
Simone Buchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen-School in Hamburg. In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award, and second place in the German Crime Fiction Prize, for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months. The next in the Chastity Riley series, Beton Rouge, won the Radio Bremen Crime Fiction Award and Best Economic Crime Novel 2017. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.
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