In the fall of 1997 two young girls are murdered in the small German village of Altenhain. Eleven years later the convicted murderer, Tobias Sartorius, is released from prison and returns home. During his absence many things have changed, but not the hatred for Sartorius, and villagers are up in arms that he has resurfaced, and many seek revenge. We also learn that bones and a human skull have been located inside a fuel tank found at a construction site where workers were demolishing a former military airfield near Frankfurt. Further, the mother of Sartorius, divorced, named Rita Cramer has been viciously attacked at a North S Bahn train station and has been pushed over a railing onto an expressway, creating a seven car pileup, resulting in Cramer’s induced coma in an ICU unit at a local hospital. These incidents form the backdrop for Nele Neuhaus’ novel SNOW WHITE MUST DIE which was originally published in Germany in 2010. Neuhaus is a German mystery author who has created a series of detective novels that feature the work of Pia Kirchoff and Oliver von Bodenstein of which the current book is the first.
The plot that Neuhaus creates is very complex as the two detectives believe that the three incidents that have been mentioned are all related. The old tensions from September 6, 1997, the date of the original murders are reignited as new evidence emerges, in addition to what appears to be another murder in November, 2008. Villagers are convinced that Sartorius has struck again, and this time they will make him pay.
Neuhaus creates an interesting cast of characters apart from the villagers. Police and government officials are intertwined within the plot which produces numerous surprises. The detectives themselves are a study in contrast ranging from their socioeconomic backgrounds, love lives, and approach to police work. The detectives have to cope with a number of subplots as they uncover the truth of what occurred earlier, and what was occurring in 2008. Originally Sartorius was found guilty based on circumstantial evidence and sent to prison. The problem for Sartorius was that he was drunk during the original murders after attending a village fair. He suffered from a two hour gap in his memory which he claimed was blocked, and could not remember what had occurred. Once he returns to Altenhain, the only person who will pay attention to him is a young Goth looking girl, Amelie, who looks eerily like one of the murdered girls. The role of Claudius Terlinden, who seems to own the village, his autistic son Thiers, Gregar Lauterbach, the German Cultural Minister in Wiesbaden, the actress Nadia von Bredow, Oliver von Bodenstein’s wife, Cosima, and the psychiatrist, Daniela Lauterbach, all fit into the separate subplots that percolate throughout the story.
The reader will be challenged to try and discern where the plot is going on numerous occasions and each time you think you have solved the mystery it takes an unexpected turn. Neuhaus is a master at keeping the reader guessing and she has written a thriller, with wonderful characters, that produces a totally unexpected ending. I recommend this book highly and can’t wait to begin, BAD WOLF, the second installment in what promises to be another page turner.