... or in this case, a village without pity, one not too distant from the big city of Frankfurt but that is just as tightly-knit and gossipy as the German town in the 1960s movie, and just as willing to dish out its own verdict and deliver its own brand of justice. When Tobias Sartorius is released after serving a 10-year sentence for the murder of two young women, both former girlfriends, he heads home to find his parents divorced, his father on the verge of financial collapse and the rest of the village all too ready to form a vigilante gang to toss him out. He wants to build some kind of new life, however narrow, and childhood friend Nadia, now a television actress and star, is eager to help him. But then his mother is brutally attacked, and another young girl vanishes...
This is all raw material for a very promising dark drama, but it never became one for me. Instead I plodded my way through this, bemused by each fresh plot element tossed into the mix until I came very very close to opening a notebook to keep notes so I could remember who was who; who is fighting against whom; what the various plot strands are, etc. This is ostensibly a thriller focusing on a man trying to prove his innocence not only of an original crime but of a second one, but there are so many distractions that reading this ended up feeling to me like a fairground ride that whips you from one side to another and leaves you dazed and confused. One minute, Tobias's mother is attacked; the next, a body is found; then there's a vigilante attack; then there's another crime. We lurch from medical malpractice to the banking crisis; there are multiple possible cases of older men getting involved with teenage girls; there are coverups of many different crimes. If I stop to think of it, it's actually quite amazing that all these bad guys were running around such a small town, tripping over each other. The detectives are equally confusing; one is grappling with planning permission for a home extension, another with the prospect of a spouse's infidelity. There are scenes that didn't do much for my understanding of either the plot or character, and a bizarre and (to me) implausible twist in the final pages that felt like the proverbial kitchen sink being tossed in for good measure.
Overall, the mystery was obscured by so many varied crimes and criminals of so many kinds that I found myself wondering whether the author was worried about never having the chance to explore all her ideas in future books. At the same time, it seems to me, based on offhand references to events in the past in the lives of Oliver von Bodenstein and Pia Kirchhoff, the two lead detectives, that this isn't the first book in the series; I find it a bit tricky whenever the first book translated/published here is midway through a series, so that may account for some of my general irritability when I finished this. It's not a bad mystery, but I like rich characters and plots that, even if they're complex, don't keep darting off in new directions every few minutes. Red herrings are great, but here the clues are all too evident and sometimes presented in a heavy-handed manner, while the digressions didn't really make the characters come alive or provide depth to the plot.
Not a winner for me, and I doubt I'll try again. The book wasn't helped by a clunky translation that led to some over-the-top florid prose as well as some sentences that I had to re-read to make sure I disentangled the structure.
Snow White Must Die
My "in a nutshell" summary...
A ten year old crime comes to the surface again when the convicted man...Tobias... is released from prison and returns to his home.
My thoughts after reading this book...
OMG...what a fast paced thrill ride this book was. I never tell the story of a mystery. Mysteries are best left for the reader...the guessing, the action, the surprise, the fear...just the sheer joy of discovering who the real bad guy is...such lovely fun! This book began with a question and just sort of took off. There were great characters...tons of characters that you love to hate. There were so many people who were just hateful. The only thing I knew for sure was that Tobias had to be innocent...I was so positive of this but halfway through this book I began to doubt that! Pia and Oliver...chief detectives...are a likeable duo...each with their own issues. Oliver has marriage woes...
Pia has house issues. I loved the side stories of their respective relationships.
What I loved about this book...
I loved it all...it is a big fat juicy mystery. Its pace is fast...its plot amazing...its characters fascinating. I loved Pia and Oliver as a team. Pia is persistent to the point of probably being annoying...but that makes the book ever so good!
What I didn't love...
The small minded people in this town. The idea that they stuck together and were so mean to Tobias and his father was annoying.
I found this book to be one of the best mysteries I have read in a while. It held my interest. It was a delicious fast paced book.
Snow White Must Die was just the kind of thrilling mystery I was looking to read during a recent snow storm that left me housebound. Completely captivating, without too many grisly details, I was compelled to snuggle up and read all day.
Tobias has served his time for the murder of two girls, his former girlfriends, and is returning to the small village where his father still lives. Tobias has every intention of settling back into his quiet life but his mother is pushed from an overpass and is in the hospital. There are graffiti threats on his barn and the villagers taunt him wherever he goes. The police begin investigating the attempted murder of his mother and come across some inconsistencies in the original case. Did Tobias actually murder the girls ten years earlier?
Nele Neuhaus, the international bestselling author, is successful at creating the sinister situation and casting doubt on nearly every character in the village. Adept at sharing the right details, the characters and setting come alive and become more than just stock characters. Even the detectives are alive with details from their personal lives. Well plotted with just enough foreshadowing and clues to keep you guessing until the very end, Snow White Must Die is impossible to put down.
The Brothers Grimm could not have come up with a darker tale than Nele Neuhaus's "Snow White Must Die," a thriller that is awkwardly translated from the German by Steven T. Murray. In 2008, thirty-year-old Tobias Sartorius is freed after spending ten years behind bars. Although the evidence against him was circumstantial, Tobi was convicted for murdering two seventeen-year-old girls, Laura Wagner and Stefanie Schneeberger, whose bodies were never found. His hostile neighbors in the small village of Altenhain do not welcome Sartorius back with open arms. On the contrary, they cruelly harass him and his downtrodden father, Hartmut. Tobi's homecoming turns out to be a catalyst for disaster when secrets that had long lain dormant gradually come to light. Ironically, Tobi may be one of the few innocent individuals in a town filled with selfish, hypocritical, greedy, lustful, cowardly, sadistic, and immoral men and women.
In addition to Tobias's reappearance, other developments set off a disastrous chain reaction. For example, forty-one year old Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff, of the Hofheim Criminal Police, is called to the scene when a backhoe operator finds skeletal remains in a dilapidated aircraft hangar that is scheduled for demolition. (Kirchhoff's boss, Oliver von Bodenstein is a good cop who is distracted by serious marital problems.) Pia decides to revisit Tobias's case, since she suspects that the wrong person may have been blamed for killing Stefanie and Laura. Violence erupts, another young girl disappears, and events begin to spiral out of control. Among those caught in the fallout are: Thies Terlinden, an autistic man who knows more about the circumstances surrounding Laura and Stefanie's deaths than he dares reveal; an inquisitive seventeen-year-old waitress, Amelie Fröhlich; Nadia von Bredow, Tobi's childhood friend, now a wealthy and successful actress; and cultural minister Gregor Lauterbach and his wife, Daniela, a physician, both prominent members of their community.
"Snow White Must Die" is a hectic and densely plotted police procedural that is so over-the-top that, at times, it is unintentionally funny. Matters are not helped by the stilted dialogue and cheesy writing ("A feeling of foreboding attacked him as suddenly as a raptor" and "Unexpectedly a wave of heat raced through his body and shot into his abdomen like glowing lava"). The author throws everything into the book but the kitchen sink. If you look carefully, the kitchen sink may be in there as well. This story has a soap-opera feel, since the characters engage in extreme misbehavior that includes adultery, betrayal, financial chicanery, medical malpractice, police corruption, and attemped murder. It is strangely entertaining to read this overly long, overwrought, and sometimes campy book just to see what additional rabbits Neuhaus will pull out of her hat.
on April 5, 2013
This book was my book group's selection for this month's meeting. I was really looking forward to reading a good yarn to get a bit of relief from the heavier fare that we usually delve into. Despite its numerous annoying problems, I ended up finishing the book, simply hoping that it would get better towards the end (and kicking myself afterwards because I never, ever learn and still waste time reading bad books and watching rotten movies just to find out how it all ends!).
Here are some of the most obvious problems. First, most murder mysteries will necessarily have a few plot twists that don't occur very often in real life but this book is simply stuffed to the bursting point with way too many plot twists to be even remotely believable. It's as if the author simply rummaged through her knowledge base of human vices, found one to pin on virtually every citizen of this creepy little town, and let them all loose on the world. I was exhausted by the time I read the last page.
Second, most of the characters are completely one dimensional. Despite his ten years spent in prison for crimes he did not commit (by the way, Germany must have a really lenient penal system; a prison sentence of just ten years for two murders? Really?), Toby never managed to elicit one iota of sympathy from me. He seemed to be an arrogant person without any real insight into his effect on other people as a teenager, and he seemed to be the exact same person as an adult. For example, he did not seem to care one whit that his father's life was completely destroyed. His only interest was in hauling out the accumulated yard trash so the farm could be sold. Dad was never consulted and was, presumably, going to be hauled unceremoniously off to some other place.
In the same vein, the unfaithful wife and the cuckolded husband are simple caricatures. We are ultimately never really enlightened as to why the marriage fell apart. Maybe the eight weeks without sex did them in, but how believable is that for a couple successfully married for over 25 years? The gossipy housewives in the local grocery store are faceless nags without any other personality traits; the town's super rich are exclusively super bad; one of the killers is a whiny wimp under his wife's thumb, the other an equally whiny wimp under his father's thumb; supercute blondie seems likeable enough for a time albeit in a super self involved kind of way, but then just turns out to be all bad in the end, too; and on and on.
Third, there are all those bits of plot left blowing in the wind like old plastic bags on roadside bushes. Whatever became of Toby's mother? I guess she is still sitting in that hospital, trying to recover from her assault, poor thing. And why did Toby and his father never once visit her? How believable is that? Why would the three badasses who witnessed one of the murders come forward voluntarily? What about the affair between Terlinden and the town doctor? When and why did it start, how long did it go on, are they still seeing each other? And why would Terlinden facilitate her escape and in doing so fail to save his own skin? Simple chivalry, from that guy of all people? Not likely. Where was Terlinden's cardboard character of a wife when things finally blew up? And, in light of what we learn about that last will and testament late in the book, why would Toby's father cover for Terlinden all these years instead of benefiting directly from blowing his cover? Unbelievable! Why would Terlinden have wanted to convince his son to remain silent after the murder of Laura? It makes no real sense. Then there is the fact that the entire town seems to be conspiring to cover up who the real killers are. Why? How believable is that? And what's up with that little sideline story about that moonlighting cop? Why does he not get his lazy butt kicked out of the force pronto?
And then there is the translation. Sigh. I am a native speaker of the German language who has lived in an English language environment for over thirty years. I often found the translation highly unidiomatic. It sounded like German in an English disguise. It's as if the translator simply translated word for word. In addition, some of the Germanisms the author used don't really translate at all. For example, in German, an old-fashioned, mid-20th century way of describing a woman's role is "Kinder-Küche-Kirche." It translates to children-kitchen-church. It works in German because each word starts with the letter "K" and it just sort of has a rhythm that rolls nicely off the tongue. In English, it just doesn't really work. The translation should have been something in the nature of an entire sentence, such as, perhaps, "she felt unfulfilled by the traditional female roles of raising children and maintaining a home" (and in any case, there is no way that a 21st century woman in Germany would still be expected to adhere to those traditional roles, so the entire thing is not all that believable). There are numerous other examples of such weird translations and I must say, after a while, they really got on my nerves. I actually thought the author herself wrote the book in English, employing what seemed like pretty good High School English skills, until I learned that the book was professionally translated.
The girl is the only really sympathetic, somewhat multi-dimensional character. All that black eyeliner, all those tatoos and body percings and Doc Marten boots and she turns out to be a nice, intelligent girl after all! I would actually like to be able to praise the author here if it wasn't for the stereotyping of, and implicit insult to, people with a stylistic preference for tattos, piercings, and Goth make-up. The two cops, it must be said, are fun to watch together, and Pia is a hoot and a very courageous person to boot. That's the best I can say about this book. Sorry folks, don't waste your money, go read some Stephen King or something instead. Actually, go read some David Liss. Much more fun. Here are some examples. The Coffee Trader: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle)A Spectacle of Corruption: A Novel
on February 3, 2014
I read a lot. I rarely review books as I know it all comes down to personal taste. This is the genre I read a lot and I was very much looking forward to reading this book. The title alone drew me in.
The translation is not great, so that doesn't help much. More problematic though is the whole plot. I did not find this story believable in any way. Sure, fiction, it doesn't need to be too true, but this was simply so absurd that it was almost comical.
I don't want to give away too much. There is plot after plot after plot and none of them go anywhere. In the last few pages so many new events are introduced (a death, a hidden will, an unnecessary chase) that it made my head spin.
I finished the book, hence the 2 star rating (the one star are only for books I couldn't bare to finish). 5 minutes after I closed the book, I couldn't remember who had done it. Or why. Not that I cared anymore at that point, but I seriously couldn't remember.
The detectives are slightly entertaining. Pia more than Oliver. None of the characters feel like real people though. The most interesting character is the teenage girl. She starts out as a 'real' person but then loses it a little after the middle of the book. None of them come alive for me.
I don't think I will read anything else by this author. I might give her another try if her books are in our library but I certainly won't waste my money on buying her books.
on July 18, 2013
I don't expect murder mysteries to be written with the finesse of good literature, but I do expect a well-crafted plot and interesting characters. Snow White Must Die offers no such redemption. From the beginning I was annoyed by the sheer number of characters. Names, names, names abound for dozens of cardboard characters, most of whom do nothing to further the story. Although the central police characters have a bit more depth, their personal side stories serve only to further muddy the already convoluted plot.
And then there's the writing itself. I can't decide if the writing is just plain awful or if the translation makes it worse. Cliches abound, and the clunky syntax is simply cringe worthy. After the first few chapters, I began to be amused by misplaced modifiers and began giggling over the worst clunkers. My favorite was the character who sat with a grin at a desk. Makes for an interesting visual.
I don't wonder that writing this bad sells --can we say, "Dan Brown" with a straight face? But when there are so many good thrillers out there -- Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs or the Hannibal Lecter stuff, for instance -- carefully crafted with unforgettable, multi-dimensional characters, why on earth would novels like this become "international best sellers?"
on March 9, 2013
I would like to read all of Neuhaus's books after reading "Snow White Must Die" which feels like a mile-a-minute ride down the autobahn. This is a tight, multi-layered, complex mystery with a cast of characters who are all in some way suspicious of one crime or another in the small German village of Altenhain, not far from Frankfurt.
Eleven years ago two girls went missing from the village, but their bodies were never found. Tobias Sartorius was indicted for the crimes on circumstantial evidence and sent to prison for ten years. When the book begins, Tobias has served his time and is now out of prison and has returned to his parents' home. The entire village is close-mouthed about the disappearance of the two seventeen-year-old girls, and no one has any sympathy for Tobias or his aging father.
The two lead investigative police detectives, Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein, are called to the scene of an accident where a woman was thrown from a pedestrian bridge onto a moving car below, but there is a witness to this crime. As it turns out, the woman is the mother of Tobias Sartorius, Rita Cramer, who is divorced from his father. Someone is out to get this family.
When another girl from the village goes missing, the police know that it is related to those long ago crimes and the whole village has Tobias as the one and only suspect, but the police have a few other ideas in mind.
In this closed-minded village where one family rules and everyone else is beholden to their generosity, anyone could be the perpetrator. Hard-working police work nearly around the clock to solve this crime and to find out who killed Snow White, called so because of her last name, Schneeberger, "schnee" meaning snow, and her friend, Laura, and to find their bodies. In addition, time starts to run short to find the other missing girl.
This book is very hard to put down with new characters appearing and the private lives of the police detectives becoming as complicated as the mystery itself. Nele Neuhaus has written an excellent mystery that is airtight and with characters who are developed well over the course of the book, are flawed, but do their job despite what they face. They are very human, and a few of the ones on the police force do go against the rules, but do they get caught? There are so many questions in this book as well as twists and turns that all come together for a shocking ending.
I'm looking forward to the next book of Neuhaus's that will be released later in the year. Highly recommended.
on January 27, 2016
This is a compelling thriller, with a strong plot line, and a good read overall. The story centers on Tobias Sartorious, who has returned to his home town after serving nine years in prison for the murder of two girls. The evidence, we are told, was entirely circumstantial, but the townsfolk have no doubt about Tobias' guilt. They have ruined his father and driven his mother out of town, and are all set to turn on Tobias when he returns. But is he guilty? The plot thickens, of course, and then thickens some more, producing new crimes and the arrival of our detective duo on the scene. They have their own issues, personal and political, further complicating a complicated plot.
Despite the complexity, I found it a compelling read, though I did have to stop from time to time to figure out how character X was linked to character Y. In addition, the translation feels clumsy at times (slang words in particular don't sound right). Finally, the plot does move into the Grand Guignol territory so beloved of Swedish crime novelists, so be prepared to tolerate a bit of implausibility. Overall, however, this thriller did its job -- it kept me turning the pages, a good bit further into the night than I had intended. I have already started reading another novel in the series, and look forward to proceeding through what's available in English.
First Line: The rusty iron staircase leading downstairs was narrow and steep.
During their investigation into a woman being pushed from a pedestrian bridge onto a busy motorway beneath, police detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein discover that the victim is the mother of a man who spent ten years in prison for the deaths of two seventeen-year-old girls. The girls vanished without a trace, and Tobias Sartorius was convicted after a trial based solely on circumstantial evidence.
Tobias has been released and has returned to his home in the small village of Altenhain, Germany, to find his parents divorced, his father's business ruined, and his father a broken old man. It rapidly becomes clear that the villagers do not want Tobias among them. When another young girl goes missing, Kirchhoff and Bodenstein's investigation turns into a race against time because the people of Altenhain know who's guilty and are more than willing to take matters into their own hands.
There are currently six books in the Kirchhoff and Bodenstein series, with this one being the fourth-- and the first to make its way to the U.S. I didn't realize this when I began reading the book, but it was soon evident that the two police inspectors had worked on past cases together. I didn't find this detrimental because none of the past cases had anything to do with their present one.
After a few pages I was completely caught up in Neuhaus's story. This author knows how to create a wonderful cast of characters! In this book, Oliver Bodenstein has the lion's share of the spotlight as his personal life begins to take precedence over the investigation, but it is Pia Kirchhoff who caught my attention. It's all due to Pia's feeling that something's not quite right that there's an investigation at all. She begins doing her research and finds things in the old case files that just don't add up. Pia will not let it go when others tell her that Tobias Sartorius was guilty, and she shouldn't waste her time.
The two police inspectors are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cast of characters in this book. Neuhaus immediately gives the reader the feeling that Tobias Sartorius is innocent without coming right out and saying so. The author also has one of the best portrayals of what can happen to the family of a man found guilty and sent to prison. There are victims on both sides, and this is seldom shown in crime fiction books.
I could go on and on about other characters like the teenage girl Amelie who befriends Thies, a young autistic man. The resident rich man of Altenhain, the television star... Neuhaus populates this book with rich characterizations. But wait-- there's more!
The plot has a thread count higher than the best linens at Saks Fifth Avenue-- and each one is carefully woven into Neuhaus's framework. As one element is deduced, six more questions pop up, demanding to be answered. Although this book has a complex plot and many characters (that I had no problem keeping track of), I still felt it could have used a bit more editing and tightening. This is a very small complaint, however. Snow White Must Die is one enjoyable book to read, and I hope you take the opportunity to do so!