Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus, translated from German by Steven T. Murray (Pan Macmillan, 2012), certainly benefits from an eyecatching title and cover as well as “international bestseller status” and inclusion in Richard and Judy’s Book Club. Weirdly, it’s the fourth in the Bodenstein & Kirchhoff series yet the first to be translated into English.
Tobias Sartorius was jailed for the murders of two girls, Laura and Stefanie – the latter being his beautiful girlfriend, known as Snow White. He had always protested his innocence and the conviction was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. Now he’s served his time and returned home. His presence in the small village reopens old wounds and stirs up the events of the past. Then a girl who bears a striking resemblence to Stefanie goes missing. Is history about to repeat itself? What really happened back then, and can the truth be revealed before more harm is done?
Steven T. Murray is best known for translating Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium trilogy and has certainly done well out of the current craze for Nordic noir. I wasn’t convinced by the translation here though and it annoyed me that I couldn’t tell whether it was the original writing or the translation that was sloppy. I guess I’ll have to start again at the beginning of the series in German to find out. A couple of my own key words to watch out for when translating from German are “energisch” and “irritiert”. They have obvious cognates in English, but “energetic” and “irritated” aren’t always the best options. “Energisch” can be vigorous, forceful, emphatic or trenchant. “Irritiert” sometimes actually means “confused”. There were a lot of people doing things energetically or irritatedly in the book, and that always worries me! Actually, I was nearly lost on the very first page when German students were doing A-levels yet driving SUVs and using flashlights. I’m glad I persevered past that though.
As for the plot, I was very sceptical about Tobias getting 10 years as the maximum sentence for a double murder, and it took 100 pages before it was made clear that that was the maximum juvenile sentence. But he was 20 at the time, which just adds to my confusion, and indeed irritation! There was also an overwhelming number of characters to contend with, and a rather sprawling central storyline combined with the personal lives and professional tangles of the investigating team. But for all that, it was a gripping story, particularly strong on the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small village where everybody knows everybody else and their business, and the corrupting effects of power and influence in such a place.
Tobias is a well-drawn figure as we see the effect the past events have had on him and his family. The murders of Laura and Stefanie have destroyed the lives of so many people and the repercussions continue to trickle through the village in one way and another touching everybody to a greater or lesser extent. I liked DI Kirchhoff and DSI Bodenstein (note to the publisher, calling him DS as you do on the blurb demotes him to Det. Sergeant!) and certainly didn’t mind the digressions into what makes them tick. It’s a shame to have come in on their story three books in though.
All in all, it was a good if flawed read, and I really hope the rest of the series will be available in English soon.