Now this is an extremely difficult pick, but I think this may be one of my favourite Orenda titles yet – definitely top ten, although Six Stories remains very close to my heart. And that’s a rather controversial statement when you look at their superb, classy backlist. Blue Night was originally a German book, where it was, unsurprisingly, no. 1 for months, and is set in Hamburg, which has the same chilly weather as we’re used to from much of Orenda’s ScandiNoir list. The author uses the cloud movement and the weather to great effect in portraying the northern port, where the criminal underworld is controlled by an Albanian, now more-or-less respectable. But some police have long memories, and one officer, Haller, bears a grudge that goes back years.
Our main character is Chastity Riley, a public prosecutor who’s been sidelined after a botched operation, as well as for revealing her superior was corrupt. You’d think that would earn her brownie points, but she’s buried in a tiny office and put in charge of witness protection. Riley has a great voice – truly one of the most original I’ve read in a long time.
In one of her fairly routine witness protection gigs she comes across a man who’s clearly moved on the wrong side of the law. But, perhaps in an attempt at absolution, he reveals details of a synthetic drug headed from the East and set to pass through Hamburg, flooding the West. I actually watched a Stacey Dooley (we love her!) documentary on this particular drug, which is ubiquitous in Poland, the Ukraine, and very probably Russia. It’s particularly foul, and the making of it involves gasoline. Users have a 2-3 year lifespan. The fact that it’s a fraction of the price of heroin is the main reason for it’s popularity.
So Riley and crew find themselves in the middle of a huge drug smuggling operation. It’s pacy, exciting stuff.
The cliché that Germans have no sense of humour can be wiped out by this novel (although the towels/sunbeds one will probably remain intact…) The author has a distinctive, witty, almost quirky voice which has been wonderfully translated by Rachel Ward. There are also snippets and suggestions of a fascinating back story for our heroine, Chastity Riley, a public prosecutor with an unusual group of friends – some with slightly shady pasts, including her boyfriend, who are now on the straight-and-narrow – although it seems we’ll have to wait for future novels to get all the skinny on her history. Personally, I can’t wait.
The book also has an intriguing layout, with small contributions from most characters, although Riley dominates the storyline. Hamburg is wonderfully portrayed as a character itself – it really makes you want to visit, as a book set in a place the author truly loves does. (Laura Lippman does it to me with Baltimore too.) It’s a rapid read, which really gets a grip of you.
I adored everything about this book – I loved Riley, the policemen she works alongside, her quirky group of friends (and luscious sounding younger boyfriend) – all of them really original and well-drawn. So I guess all I can say is, please hurry up with no.2!
BLURB: After convicting a superior for corruption and shooting off a gangster’s crown jewels, the career of Hamburg’s most hard-bitten state prosecutor, Chastity Riley, has taken a nose dive: she has been transferred to the tedium of witness protection to prevent her making any more trouble. However, when she is assigned to the case of an anonymous man lying under police guard in hospital – almost every bone in his body broken, a finger cut off, and refusing to speak in anything other than riddles – Chastity’s instinct for the big, exciting case kicks in. Using all her powers of persuasion, she soon gains her charge’s confidence, and finds herself on the trail to Leipzig, a new ally, and a whole heap of lethal synthetic drugs. When she discovers that a friend and former colleague is trying to bring down Hamburg’s Albanian mafia kingpin single-handedly, it looks like Chas Riley’s dull life on witness protection really has been short-lived… Fresh, fiendishly fast-paced and full of devious twists and all the hard-boiled poetry and acerbic wit of the best noir, Blue Night marks the stunning start of a brilliant new crime series, from one of Germany’s bestselling authors.
I received a copy of this novel from Anne Cater and Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books. This does not affect my review of the book, which reflects my unbiased opinion.