Bad Wolf by Nele Neuhaus is the second translated novel in the Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein detective series (available January 21, 2014).
Nele Neuhaus knows how to kickstart a story. The first chapter of Bad Wolf, the second novel in her series about detectives Pia Kirchoff and Oliver von Bordenstein, opens with a sweaty fry cook showering off the stink of rancid oil and grilled meat in the cramped shower of his trailer’s bathroom and then strapping on a watch that cost him 11,000 Deutsche Marks—the last reminder he has of a previous, more prosperous life. Who is this man and what caused his disgrace and how is he connected to the body of the young woman the police are calling “the Mermaid” after fishing her lifeless body out of a river? For some writers, answering those questions would be mystery enough for a single novel, the plot here is composed of a lot of different moving parts, and the writer takes time to set all these pieces in motion before pulling back to allow us to see the whole, beautifully crafted mechanism.
And lurking inside the mechanism are the wolves.
The wolves are everywhere, sometimes hiding in plain sight, sometimes traveling in packs, sometimes attacking in the open, falling upon their victims with ferocious glee. Sometimes, they even fall upon their own kind:
Once something was on the Internet, it was impossible to delete. She bit her lip and thought hard. Unfortunately, the article was close to the truth. Hanna had a real knack for finding interesting topics, and she wasn’t afraid to ask embarrassing questions and stir up dirt. In doing so, she basically couldn’t care less about the people and their often tragic fates. She secretly had nothing but contempt for most of them and their urge to bare all in return for fifteen minutes of fame. Hanna managed to coax the most intimate secrets out of people in front of the camera, and she was a master at pretending to be sympathetic and interested.
“Hanna” is the ambitious television personality the detectives first encountered in Snow White Must Die, and here she takes a central role in one of the central mysteries that loops back on the Mermaid murder like a Mobius strip. But as cold and ruthless as Hanna is, she’s got her own wolf in the fold, her angry daughter Meike, who never misses a chance to throw insults her mother’s way.
“You’re looking good,” [Hanna] said.
“You sure aren’t,” replied Meike with a critical glance. “You’re really looking old.”
As it turns out, Meike isn’t the only daughter in the story who has a problem with a parent, and as Pia and Bordenstein attempt to connect the clues tying their cases together, they also have to deal with a bitter former colleague whose disappointment and envy have made him wolfish.
As a colleague, with his envy and perpetually rotten temper, Behnke had been a veritable torment, but as a representative of internal investigations, he could be a disaster. “You, of all people, should know best.” He stood up and came around the desk to stand close to her. “But you’re the obvious favorite of the old man.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Pia replied icily.
“Oh, don’t you? Really?” Behnke moved so close that it made her uncomfortable, but she resisted the urge to step back. “Starting Monday, I’m going to start an authorized internal investigation in this building, and I probably won’t have to dig very deep to bring a few corpses to light.”
“Well then,” she said sarcastically, resuming her search. “I wish you much success in your new job as… a cadaver dog.”
Behnke turned to go.
“Your name isn’t on my list yet. But that could change at any time. Have a nice weekend.”
At least Pia can see Behnke coming. For some of the victims here, the wolves come out of the shadows, disguised as humans. Neuhaus plays with point of view so gracefully that even long-time mystery readers may find themselves second guessing themselves.
The readers will never see some of these wolves coming until it’s far, far too late.
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Katherine Tomlinson lives in Los Angeles in an apartment where her TBR pile has its own bookcase. She writes dark fiction but has a soft spot for cozy mysteries, heroic fantasy, and horror novels where only bad people get killed. She is the author of the upcoming novel Misbegotten.