4 mysteries with great locations, finely detailed plots
This week's fiction roundup travels to four different countries for mysteries and a conspiracy story with an accent on complicated plotting and a terrific sense of place.
1. 'Snow White Must Die,' by Nele Neuhaus
The year is young, but bestselling German writer Nele Neuhaus already has a shot at Best Title of 2013 with her US debut. No, it's not an anti-Disney feminist manifesto, but instead a complex police procedural with an entire town's worth of suspects.
Tobias Sartorius spent 10 years in prison for murdering two teenage girls. (One of them had won the lead in the school play as Snow White, hence the title.) Their bodies were never found, and Toby, who was drinking heavily and claims to have no memory of that night, was convicted on circumstantial evidence. Now he's been released, and the villagers, who have a code of Omertà that make the Mafia look loose-lipped, are displeased. “Everyone in the village was related to someone who lived only a couple of blocks away, and everyone knew the family histories of everyone else.”
His father's been run out of business but refuses to leave the family farm, and the weekend after Toby's release, someone throws his mother, who had started over in another city, off a pedestrian bridge. Then one of the girls' skeletons is found, causing Inspector Pia Kirchoff to question Toby's guilt, and another teenage girl goes missing. The climax is improbable, but until then, “Snow White Must Die” – which has 3 million copies in print in 15 countries – does an excellent job of exploring small-town venality as Kirchoff begins to suspect that it takes a village to cover up a murder. There are no magic mirrors or dwarves, but there are enough poisonous secrets lying fallow to take care of an entire apple orchard.