Knowing how much I enjoy crime novels, a friend (thank you, Cornelia!) recommended to me that I try Nelle Neuhaus and suggested the disturbingly titled Snow White Must Die as an introduction to her work. Opening with an intriguing prologue, it’s when the novel proper starts that I was really hooked. Snow Must Die centres on Tobias Sartorius, who after serving eleven years in prison for the murder of two lovely young girls, returns to his home and the place where the crimes took place. While there are those who believe in Tobias’ protests of innocence and point to the fact he was charged on the basis of circumstantial evidence alone, and have remained loyal, there are many more who are not only out for revenge and bitter and angry, but are harbouring secrets that Tobias’ presence among them and the memories he threatens to disturb.
Finding his home and the town a shadow of its former self, Tobias is rattled. When attacks upon first his family and then those who would aid him occur, Tobias and the police called to investigate, understand that dark forces and people with deadly motives are operating.
Early in the story, Pia Kirchhoff and her boss, DS Oliver Von Bodenstein are brought in to investigate the brutal assault of a 51-year-old woman. When they understand she is linked to Tobias, they find they are asking more questions than they are receiving answers and what made sense to police and detectives over ten years ago, no longer holds true. Keen to reopen Tobias’ case, there is at first no reason, but it isn’t long before one is found…
The town in which the novel is set, Altenhain in Germany is as much a character as the barflies that take up space in the main diner. Once prosperous, it teeters on ruin and decay, functioning as a metaphor for what it’s both facilitated and hidden for over a decade.
Filled with interesting characters with credible back stories and complex and rich personal lives, Snow White Must Die doesn’t only focus on crime and criminals but on the impact of violence upon individuals and families and the influence being in the police force has on relationships as well.
Like Tobias, his father and the young Goth, Aemlia, and her friend, Theis, the police personnel, Pia and Oliver, are flawed, passionate and loyal, and the tensions in their professional and personal relationships simmer on the page.
Fast-paced, ofttimes violent, the novel is unrelenting in exposing the parochial attitudes that can afflict certain groups with pecuniary and other interests to protect and no moral centre. This is where Tobias and the friends he makes as well as Pia and Oliver come into their strengths. Each in their own way provides an ethical touchstone for events, even when their actions do not always accord with the collective moral compass – but then their own notions of right and wrong do and consequences ensue.
Towards the end, the pace staggers to a crawl and while much of what occurs in the last few pages is essential to the narrative, and great to read, there is a sense in which it goes on a tad long. Not that I minded because I really enjoyed the book. Though I did wonder just how much more poor Tobias could take!
As it is, cannot wait to read the next one of Neuhuas’ books I’ve bought: Big Bad Wolf.