Twenty floors above the shimmering lights of the Hamburg docks, Public Prosecutor Chastity Riley is celebrating a birthday with friends in a hotel bar when twelve heavily armed men pull out guns, and take everyone hostage. Among the hostages is Konrad Hoogsmart, the hotel owner, who is being targeted by a young man whose life – and family – have been destroyed by Hoogsmart’s actions.
With the police looking on from outside – their colleagues’ lives at stake – and Chastity on the inside, increasingly ill from an unexpected case of sepsis, the stage is set for a dramatic confrontation … and a devastating outcome for the team … all live streamed in a terrifying bid for revenge.
I’ve been waiting impatiently for my turn on the blog tour for Hotel Cartagena by Simone Buchholz, the fourth book featuring Chastity Riley, and the day is finally here, hurrah! I ADORE this series and I am so grateful to Anne Cater for giving me one of the coveted places on the tour to talk about how much I love it, and to Karen at Orenda Books for providing me with an advance digital copy for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially as always.
Nobody writes like Simone Buchholz. I don’t think there are many people who would dare. Every one of her books is different, every one feels like a slap to the face dealt to rouse you from your reading complacency and tell you to pay attention, every one is as fresh and unapologetically brazen – just like the character of Chastity Riley herself. Hotel Cartagena is no different, equally unmistakably Buchholz and unlike any of the previous books in the series.
We start immediately in the action, as Chastity finds herself at the centre of a hostage situation whilst celebrating Faller’s 65th birthday in a bar on the eighteenth floor of a harbourside hotel. The hostage takers are well-organised and determined, there is no easy way out, but it is hard for a bunch of law enforcement professionals to sit around and watch a crime being played out. I was immediately on the edge of my seat, wondering what they would do and fearful for them all, a situation mirrored by Chastity herself. The tensions between her colleagues that have been building over the previous books, largely due to Chastity’s complicated relationships with each of them, transfer themselves to their current situation, and we can see how these relationships are thrown into sharp relief by the stressful, knife-edge situation in which they find themselves.
One person missing from the room is Stepanovic, late to the party due to a reluctance to put himself in a position of having to see Chastity in a social setting with two of her ex (or not so ex) lovers. The woman drives him crazy, he is trying to convince himself to forget her. However, as we see Stepanovic’s increasingly desperate concern for Riley manifesting in insubordination, aggression and crazy rescue plans, we can glean directly from his first person reaction to her plight his realisation just what she means to him, exactly as he reaches those conclusions himself.
Layered in amongst the present unfolding of the hostage situation through Chastity’s eyes, we are also given information on the hostage takers and how this whole mess came about through a series of historical flashbacks. Far from taking away from the tension, understanding why what is happening is happening adds to the angst, because it becomes less and less clear who are the good and bad guys in this scenario. Throwing these shades of grey into the equation, exploring the nature of choice and necessity in the descent into a criminal life, and the motivations behind revenge and retribution stir the pot so that, when the inevitable reckoning comes in the now, the line between who to blame and who to pity becomes blurred.
During the course of events, Chastity is injured and becomes unwell and delirious, unsure what is real and what is illusionary, which adds a disjointed and disconnected quality to her observations of the scene. She finds herself in the unfamiliar position of bystander, weakened and helpless, able to do nothing but watch as her colleagues take drastic action. It shows us a different side to Chastity, and I was fully there, trapped in her body, horrified by what I was watching. This powerlessness added to my dismay and heartbreak at the outcome of the incident, a weight which is laying heavy on my chest even now as I write. To be able to write so affectingly, especially in the sharp, snappy, staccato way this author does, is some impressive skill.
This book won’t be like anything you have read before, even if you have read this author or this series. Her ability to continue to evolve, morph, surprise even her biggest fans is what keeps me coming back to her books with child-like excitement and enthusiasm each time. She is never boring, never repetitive, and very, very brave. Aided by a translator who understands her and is with her every step of the way and a publisher who is not afraid to take risks on the extraordinary, who knows where this author can go? Any reader who loves a dark, gritty, hard-boiled novel and prides themselves on stretching themselves in their reading should be taking this ride too.
Hotel Cartagena is out now in ebook and paperback, and on audiobook on 1 April and you can buy a copy here.
Please do check out some of the reviews by the other great bloggers taking part in the tour:
About the Author
Simone Buchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen-School in Hamburg. In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award as well as runner-up in the German Crime Fiction Prize for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.
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