Alexander Gerlach assumes his promotion to Police Chief of Heidelberg will bring with it a quieter life, but on his first day in his new job, the body of a chemistry student is discovered and what at first seems to be an open-and-shut case with a clear culprit quickly changes into something more complex. Soon there will be another murder, which will cast doubt on all previous assumptions.
The race is on for Gerlach to unravel the cruel conspiracy, before it's too late ...
I have read a lot of police procedural /detective fiction novels recently - all very commendable - but most of them have female protagonists who are quirky, vulnerable, harbouring their own issues and heartache while they simultaneously transcend all boundaries to solve murders and violent crimes. Although I cannot deny I hugely enjoy these sorts of stories which are incredibly exciting and appealing, this novel was a kind of back-to-basics detective story and for this reason, I found it very refreshing and enjoyable.
This is a quite a "straightforward" novel. The writing is simple and direct, the crime is suitably complex but easy to keep up with and the protagonist is not plagued by numerous emotional issues - he has a family, a love interest and a back story, but largely he is an ordinary, up front, capable professional policeman. It is an easy read and feels very much like Sunday night TV - engaging, engrossing, exciting, but not too demanding or harrowing.
The story opens cleverly with Gerlach, our protagonist, publicly accepting his new job - a promotion in a new city and with a police force entirely new to him, and meeting his new colleagues. Simultaneously a crime is taking place:
"This must have been around the time when Patrick Grotheer died. Slowly, bleeding to death, drop by drop. For around ninety minutes."
As the story unfolds, the crime scene and investigation is well described, evoking an atmosphere full of suspense. There is a kind of matter- of-fact style to Burger's writing and a directness that actually creates further tension.
The body of a fully grown adult contains around five litres of blood. Half a bucketful, no more......All in all the dead man probably lost no more than two litres of blood. But when these two litres are spread over a seventy square metre room, which is largely decorated in white, then it's a lot.
Further intrigue is created through the surrounding characters. Vangelis, who also applied for Gerlach's job and is already highly established within the team, does not hide her animosity towards him or her power over her colleagues.
Vangelis allowed the nervous officers to report to her and acted as if Balke and I were not there. ......
......'That woman is an animal,' he mumbled, 'Does she ever smile?'.....
"You probably would have been a better choice for the job. You know your way around the place. You know the city, the people."
"But I'm a woman."
He is a "good guy". He is likeable and easy to relate to and respect. It is clear that he will be successful and is always well meaning and considerate towards anyone who he interacts with. In the words of the author himself, the protagonist, Chief Inspector Alexander Gerlach, "is not a doomed alcoholic, not frustrated by his life and his job, not bullied by his boss or colleagues, not a lone wolf, but a person like you and me. He has issues but he also has strengths. He has worries and hardships and also successes and beautiful moments. Sometimes he muddles his way through like we all do; occasionally he is really very good. Often things become too much for him, but then somehow he manages to make it work."
Indeed Gerlach is very likeable central character. He is also reflective and I liked his moments of observation, insight and comment.
"instead [I had} a lot of new questions. But it didn't matter. Questions are the beginning of everything."
"Are we responsible for thoughts we don't think because we fear that they would hurt us? Can we be blamed for knowledge that we hide away in our subconscious because we don't want to face it?"
Gerlach is a single parent and has 13 year old twin daughters which provide a bit of "light relief" at times with their high jinks and general adolescent tricks. He manages them as best he can. I must admit, I was intrigued by his ability to set them chores and tasks while he went out to work all day and was a little suspicious about how believable this really was, but maybe this reflects a different cultural approach to parenting. Or because Gerlach is a man and in the police force...or my children are younger and I cannot envisage a point where I could ever turn my back on them for five minutes let alone a day! The girls did appear to be older than their 13 years but perhaps attitudes to freedom and independence are different in Heidelberg or when you are a single parent family.
What does work well is how the girls' behaviour inadvertently leads to Gerlach making several breakthroughs with his investigation and I liked this. It also shows us that Gerlach is human, fallible and juggling a high profile job with a needy family.
I also enjoyed the love interest and how this adds some mystery and another dimension to both Gerlach's character and the plot. His relationship with the mystery woman is a welcome sub plot and equally results in a further twist towards the end of the novel.
I'd like to finish by quoting the author again as he sums up what he hoped to achieve through Gerlach's character:
My Gerlach doesn't believe in the bad in people, even if he persistently gives a different impression in conversation. Deep down he holds the same beliefs, the same fundamental optimism as his creator. You constantly fear for him. Sometimes you want to give him a shake; occasionally you want to hug and comfort him, but in the end, I am invariably happy with Gerlach, when against the odds, things turn out alright after all. Even when he hasn't been able to remove the bad from the world or at least create order on his desk.
I enjoyed this novel and would be happy to read future books about Gerlach and his twin daughters. I hope this is the beginning of a series as I think it would appeal to a wide readership. The European setting is effective and no longer a barrier or distraction as I think with the growth of "Nordic Noir" and the recent increase in crime series set in Amsterdam, Germany or other European cities- on TV as well as in fiction - appeals to readers and has opened up a whole host of "new" authors for crime readers to enjoy and discover.
My thanks to Bonnier Zaffre Publishing and NetGalley for the advanced copy of this novel in return for a fair review.
"Heidelberg Requiem" was published by Manilla on the 18th August 2016.
Please read on to see the press release accompanying this novel:
By WOLFGANG BURGER
Published by Manilla eBook, 18th August 2016, £4.99
FOR FANS OF DONNA LEON AND BERNARD MINIER: A PAGE-TURNING MURDER MYSTERY FROM BESTSELLING AUTHOR WOLFGANG BURGER
Alexander Gerlach assumes that his promotion to Police Chief of Heidelberg will bring with it a quieter life. A widower and a single parent raising twin teenage daughters, Gerlach is slowly beginning to rediscover not only himself, but also the dating scene again.
On his first day in his new job, however, the body of a chemistry student is discovered, and what at first seems to be an open-and-shut case with a clear culprit quickly changes into something more complex.
When another murder casts doubt on all previous assumptions, Gerlach must unravel the conspiracy before it’s too late....
About the Author: Wolfgang Burger is a bestselling author, whose Alexander Gerlach series of novels were twice nominated for the esteemed crime-writing award, the Friedrich Glauser Prize.
Burger has a doctorate in engineering and worked for many years at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. He has three adult daughters and lives in Germany.
For interviews, review copies and further information about the book please contact Carmen Jimenez PR Assistant at Manilla
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