In 1997, Tobias (Tobi) Sartorius was convicted for the double murder of two 17-year-old girls: a childhood friend, Laura, and his beautiful girlfriend, Stefanie, aka Snow White because of her resemblance to the Disney character. Neither body was ever found so Tobi’s conviction was based purely on circumstantial evidence.
After 11 years in prison, Tobi returns home to find that his parents have separated, their successful restaurant business has closed and the premises completely run down. Tobi quickly realises that his parents have suffered just as much as him during his absence, and he sets about trying to make amends by cleaning up the property for his father.
The setting is a small, menacing village near Frankfurt, whose inhabitants are insular and wary. Everybody seems to have a dark story of his or her own. And, of course, as with most stories set in a village, there is one very rich and successful family, who appears to hold control over the villagers.
Tobi’s return stirs up the events of the past and he is subjected to a number of attacks. Then, just days after his release, Laura’s body is unearthed and this sets the action into motion, bringing in the detectives, Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein to investigate. Pia begins to question the findings of the original investigation and as she probes the holes in the case, another teenage girl, last seen in the company of Tobi, goes missing. Of course, the villagers are certain that Tobi is to blame.
There are a lot of characters in the book and you will need to concentrate to follow them all throughout this lengthy novel. Some of them are referred to by their first name, others by their surname, and the author isn’t consistent in using the same name for the same character, which I found very confusing at times.
The characters of the detectives and their colleagues are well drawn and believable. They each have their own domestic issues to deal with, as is usually the case with crime thrillers. Their own stories interweave fluidly with the case they are investigating.
However, most disappointing for me was the character of Tobi who seems two-dimensional and without any real personality. He can’t remember the events leading up to the murders and he just seems to drift along, being far too trusting of everyone. I would have liked to have seen his character developed more by the author. His new friend Amelie, who disappears, has bags of personality and spirit, and the author could have used her as the catalyst to bring Tobi out of his zombie-like state and start working things out for himself much earlier on, rather than just leaving it to the detectives.
Verdict: This is a long and complex novel, which starts off slowly, as the scene is set. At first I was dubious that its contents would keep me gripped. However, it soon picks up pace, with so many twists, turns and red herrings, that I was kept guessing right up to the end. I would definitely try this author again.
Rating: 3 1/2/5