RivetingReviews: Paul Burke reviews THE KITCHEN by Simone Buchholz 

Often with fiction in translation the first rendering into English isn’t the first of the series. For Buchholz it was Blue Night (2018), the fifth of her novels to feature Hamburg state prosecutor Chastity Riley. We were introduced to a fully formed, complex character that readers took to their hearts. The swansong River Clyde in 2022 was a fitting ending, but it left us bereft. Happily, Buchholz has revisited the first four novels and reworked them for publication in the UK. The Kitchen is the second in the reloaded series. Chastity is younger here than before, but the writing has the maturity and the polish, as well as the introspection that links the style Buchholz achieved in the later novels. 

Buchholz’ economic, less-is-more, read-between-the-lines prose has been lightly retrofitted to the narrative. So while this carries the themes and energy that must have infused the original, it is also bold and confident. In fact, it is consummate storytelling.

In the early stages of the novel Chastity is dealing with sex traffickers, there are children involved, and she is determined that the men responsible pay for enslaving women and wrecking young lives.

We soon discover that the killer – or killers – has/have been depositing neatly parcelled male body parts in the Elbe. It falls to Chastity and the team of police officers she works with to investigate. It becomes clear that there’s a link between the victims. They all have a history of violence against women. Chastity, ever the champion of the oppressed, asks herself the uncomfortable question that will occur to many reading the novel – is society better off if this killer/these killers are never caught? Of course, she has a job to do and her moral compass isn’t that skewed.

Meanwhile, another case becomes very personal for Chastity when her best friend is attacked and raped by two men in her own café cellar. It is a harrowing, nightmarish experience for Carla, who is putting on a brave face, but is clearly suffering. Chastity, often frustrated by the legal system, pursues the offenders when the police don’t seem to be acting with the vigour she would like to see. 

Friends are important to Chastity and their bond is demonstrated by the way they rally around Carla. Once again, despite the circumstances, it’s a pleasure to reacquaint ourselves with Buchholz’ ensemble cast. The story is punctuated by that of two women working in a kitchen – I’ll leave you to imagine where that fits into the narrative. Suffice to say, all tales coalesce at the denouement.

Buchholz is a multiple winner of the prestigious German Crime Fiction Prize and Hotel Cartagena won the CWA Crime In Translation Dagger in 2022. We often refer to continental crime as Euro-Noir and Buchholz is one of the finest contemporary exponents of this dark, relevant form of crime fiction. Pulsating and exciting but revealing of society’s ills, she touches on issues such as drugs, abuse and even terrorism without getting into the minutia but clearly exploring the ramifications for her people and the Hamburg community. Plenty of psychological insight loaded with compassion.

This is a novel about sexism and misogyny. From the daily, seemingly small, micro-aggressions to the sickening violence of physical assault. Quietly angry, fired up by an issue that still goes underreported and needs to be talked about more: male privilege, entitlement and violence against women. If perpetrators get away with it and victims are left to suffer, where do we draw the lines between vengeance and justice? Can Chastity retain her faith in the law and even her hold over her own sanity?

As readers are introduced to the people of the novel, we question how well society protects its citizens. While reading this, I feel a sense of the injustice, the pain, the anger of victims, of women just trying to live their lives without feeling a threat from the men around them. 

I also love the humour, the wry eye, skilfully woven into the narrative. Time with Chastity Riley is well spent, Buchholz novels – never long – speak volumes.

Reviewed by Paul Burke


by Simone Buchholz 

Translated by Rachel Ward 

Published by Orenda Books (2024)

March 2024 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.

Paul Burke writes reviews, interviews, articles and features for crimefictionlover.com and crimetime.co.uk. He is editor and presenter of the Crime Time FM podcast and is a judge for the CWA Historical Dagger. Paul is a book collector, lover of literature in translation and a crime fiction aficionado. His first book An Encyclopedia of Spy Fiction will be published in 2025.

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Category: March 2024Reviews


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