Beton Rouge, by Simone Buchholz – book review

Beton Rouge, the new German Noir (should that be Schwarz Deutsch?), is tremendous fun. There’s a murder and a back story and a tale of damaged people. But that’s not why we’re here. 

I’m about half way down page 2 when I realise I want the inner monologue of Chastity Riley. She’s the protagonist and the narrator: she has few unexpressed thoughts but boy are they worth reading. By page 4 she’s telling us

I’ve smoked far too little in the last few days; that needs to change and so does everything else. 

Which probably tells us all we need to know about her character.

Cover of Beton Rouge by Simone BuchholzAnd I realise at the end that every page I’ve folded down has some kind of quip from our lead character – with one exception where a colleague does good sarcasm about a car park. The joy in this book comes from her language and her observations. As she points out, she’s a little removed from reality, able to watch it from afar and comment on it. She’s a bit like Philip Marlowe but more self-deprecating and somehow more vulnerable. By vulnerable, though, I mean that she has an unresolved relationship and a need to play hard: she’s braver than a pride of lions and Simone Buchholz completely avoids the cliche of a wounded and sorrowful detective. (Riley’s detecting partner, Stepanovic, possibly does fit that mould but it doesn’t really matter.) No. Chastity Riley is a brilliant creation, and the tale she tells is fresh and vibrant. I bet Rachel Ward had a great time turning Riley’s words into into English.

There are some books where you can play a game of matching the characters drink for drink. I don’t recommend it here. Riley seems to have amazing stamina for booze (she describes drunk very, very well) and little need for sleep and one of the effects of this is that we get a rather poetic and sympathetic (if slightly sanitised?) depiction of Hamburg nightlife. Riley is careful to stick up for the downtrodden and disaffected: she has a moral – well it’s not really a dilemma exactly, more of a discussion – decision to make towards the end of the book, and her judgement on the person concerned is lucid and compelling (was any other reader reminded of the English version of the gilet jaunes?).

I enjoyed the wider relationships portrayed in the novel, and the interactions with the other characters. What I especially enjoyed about the interactions was that they were not especially consistent but might depend on Riley’s energy level or general mood, which made them seem more authentic. In some cases the characters previously featured in the first novel in the series, Blue Night, which I haven’t read. I was able to keep up, but regret not reading the series in order. I hope we’ll be getting more instalments, if Riley’s liver can stand it.

Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.

You can get Beton Rouge here (affiliate link).

We previously featured Simone Buchholz in the Secret Library – check it out ICYMI.

And although we are a couple of hours late for our blog tour slot, please have a look at the rest of the stops on the tour.

Beton Rouge blog tour poster


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