|Whole book read|
Let me begin with a reminder of how much I admired Helen Grant's first two novels, each of which received ACHUKA's top rating of five gold chicks.
You can read my reviews of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden ("not one single moment of disappointment, not one wavering of tone, not one narrative misjudgment awaits the reader in this impressively assured debut novel") and The Glass Demon ("as she did in her first novel...Grant cranks up the drama and excitement with impeccable pace and timing") here: archive (scroll down - this review will be on top).
Steffi, who works in the family bakery and cafe, is a vivid presence and her voice is the driving force of the novel, as it has to be. The experiences she undergoes become increasingly horrific. The ratcheting up of the tension is not, however, as well handled here as in the first two novels. There are signs that it was not so tightly edited, both at individual paragraph level, and in terms of its narrative trajectory and structure. Grant is a fluent writer, but at times her fluency produces more words where fewer would serve more strongly. The novel would be better for being fifty pages shorter.
An Amazon reviewer feels that the brief return of Steffi's sister was 'pointless'. I agree with that. The father's illness is sufficient in itself to add roundness to Steffi's character (as well as ensuring Steffi is alone in the bakery at a crucial time in the plot's development) and allows Grant to ensure the reader remains sympathetic towards her main character.
It's still a good read and like the first two books would make superb TV drama.
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At times I had to keep reminding myself that Lin and Michel are both in their late teens (indeed, Michel drives them both around in his car) because their manner is not the teenage manner as more usually portrayed in contemporary young adult literature, and also because the adventure that unfolds is, for all its menace and melodrama, very much in the mould of younger children going out and attempting to solve a mystery without adult intervention.
This all works to the book's advantage and results in a novel that is at one and the same time an older children's mystery and a chilling, Hawthornesque tale of murder and malevolence for adults.
Lin's father, an academic driven by an idee fixe, uproots his family to Germany, determined to discover the long lost Allerheiligen stained glass. Even before entering their rented property they stumble upon the first body - an old man apparently fallen dead while picking apples, small shards of shattered glass noticed only by Lin at the time. Not long afterwards the family is all but completely unravelled when Lin's younger brother comes close to being impaled by a spear while sleeping in his cot.
The local police so closely follow protocol and procedure that the family themselves feel under suspicion.
Just as she did in her first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, Grant cranks up the drama and excitement with impeccable pace and timing. The story would make a fabulous two-part BBC thriller, expecially because each of the characters is so well-realised, from the ineffectual young stepmother, to the darkly dashing priest. And there would be wonderful bit parts for the stonewalling police.
Can't wait for novel number three!
"My life might have been so different, had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded."
The novel is set in Bad Munstereifel, a real place, a small spa town in the west of Germany. When a girl goes missing soon after the death by combustion of the grandmother, Pia feels herself the centre of a whispering campaign suggesting that she carries a curse with her.
Pia is not a native German. Her mother is from England. The relationship between Pia's parents becomes increasingly fraught as the novel develops, with the mother continuously making caustic remarks about the small mindedness of the town, and clearly wanting to return to England.
In this climate, Pia and Stefan become close and increasingly daring in their desire to solve the case of the missing children. The tone set by the exploding grandmother - a tone of sardonic relish - is maintained for two thirds of the novel, with Grant's choice of phrasing and use of dialogue exqusitely entertaining, and allowing the reader to take a somewhat detached view of events, as if watching a film. And then, hold on tight, turn those pages with increasing speed, feel yourself there, right there with Pia and Stephan in what proves to be a perilous predicament.
This is truly a book that leaves you gasping with admiration and nervous exhaustion at the end. It is, quite simply, a triumph and Grant is clearly a writer of abundant talent and promise. I feel frustrated that, as of yet, there is nothing else by her to read. But in due course there will be, and I am certain it will be every bit as good as this.