“Berlin is in the midst of its worst winter in decades.
Against the backdrop of freezing temperatures, blizzards and snowstorms, the city refuses to grind to a halt. Lurking within the shadows is a Stasi victim, out for revenge against the former East German informants known as ‘The Ears’. Their dark secrets are about to be exposed.
A mix of ice and water and a single gunshot, provides the ultimate payback.
With the Millennium approaching, Hanne Drais, the criminal psychologist working within the Berlin Mitte Police team led by the irascible Oskar Kruger and his laid-back sidekick, Stefan Glockner, are seeking the perpetrator of these violent crimes.
Who is the man they’ve nicknamed Snowflake?
Who is turning the river red?”
Today is my turn on the blog tour for The River Runs Red by Ally Rose, which is the third Hanne Drais novel by this author. My thanks to Emma Welton at damp pebbles tours for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
Although this is the third novel featuring Hanne Drais, I had not read the first two books and it did not affect my enjoyment of this book at all, it can easily be read as a standalone novel. So now we’ve confirmed that, on to the review!
This book is a dual timeline set just over a decade apart in Berlin. One timeline is set at the turn of the Millennium, where a series of violent murders of former Stasi informants is baffling the police, as there appears to be a link between them and they believe there may be a serial killer at work. Criminal psychologist, Hanne Drais, gives the police a unique perspective on the murders to help solve the crimes. The other timeline follows East German Olympic rower, Rudy Meixner as he is subjected to Stasi interrogation following the defection of his father to West Berlin, and what comes afterwards.
The two timelines are deftly woven throughout the book as the past events in East Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall feed into the later investigation of the serial murders of Stasi ‘ears’ after the unification of Germany. The clues to the identity of the ‘Snowflake’ are scattered throughout the book very cleverly. I thought I knew who it was, then I wasn’t sure, then I thought I’d got it again, then something else made me doubt myself. The plotting is very deft in this regard; I wasn’t 100% sure until the end, and even then there were unanswered questions.
The characters were really fascinating, particularly Rudy who had definite light and shade to his character that made me warm to him but also doubt him at the same time. Hanne is also an interesting character, and we are given insights into her personal life as well as her work. I really liked the fact that she is a woman who is far from traditional, but very strong and secure in her own skin, and her abilities.
Undoubtedly, the best part of the novel for me was the historical setting and the vivid descriptions of what life was like in East Germany during partition. The author really does an amazing job in this novel of bringing to life the horror of the torture that was perpetrated by the Stasi against people who were considered enemies of the state and traitors, whilst at the same time being horribly corrupt themselves. The stifling atmosphere of fear that must have pervaded every day life, as neighbour informed on neighbour and no one ever felt safe, permeates the book and really sets an amazing atmosphere for a tense thriller. I thought it was a fantastic back drop for the story and really propelled the plot and kept me gripped throughout.
The book’s grip is subtle, done with slow and insidious horror rather than lots of bangs and explosions so, if you like your thrillers full of car chases and noise, this is not for you. However, if you prefer something more intelligent and challenging, this will suit you down to the ground. This book is food for thought. There is a huge degree of moral ambiguity in the plot as the murder victims are shown to be evil and you wonder whether the killer really deserves to be punished, or pitied. This is a book requiring some brain power and a questioning of one’s own integrity.
If I had any quibbles with this book, one would be that having dates at the top of the chapters would be useful to keep the two timelines straight; at times I found myself at the beginning of the chapter trying to work out where in time we were. The other niggle I had was an editing one; there were a couple of places where I felt there was a little too much telling, rather than showing, and also that the author was spoon feeding us facts rather than leaving some inferences for the reader to work out themselves. These are small concerns, however, and easily fixable and would not stop me highly recommending this book.
This was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read and i would not hesitate to pick up more by this author.
The River Runs Red is out now and you can buy a copy here.
To follow the rest of the tour, check out the details below:
About the Author
I’ve always been interested in writing crime stories and with the Cold War era, there is such a rich tapestry to draw from; especially the notorious and quelling Stasi reign in East Germany. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, gives a contrast between the different worlds and any past crimes are held to account in a unified Germany.
Berlin is one of my favourite cities, and I’ve spent time living and discovering this diverse city and its surrounding areas. Seeing my characters in familiar places, they seem to come to life.
Hope you enjoy my Hanne Drais books.
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