BIG BAD WOLF
Author: Nele Neuhaus
Macmillan RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Author Nele Neuhaus brings the chilling issue of child sexual abuse to the forefront in Big Bad Wolf; her author’s notes at the end make no apology for the disturbing content and instead stand firm in the belief that this issue must no longer be covered up. The result is a disturbing crime thriller in which a web of despicable characters do whatever it takes to protect their revolting interests. It’s the first Nele Neuhaus book I’ve read (it’s only the second translated into English – the first being book #4) and this one is apparently book #6 in the series involving investigators Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein. Sometimes in police procedurals the protagonist has a troubled or complicated history that it helps to follow from the start, but I had no problems reading this one as a standalone.
The body of a 16-year-old girl is pulled from the river Main near Frankfurt. Initial investigation leads to nothing, not even the identity of the girl, and the police are soon sidetracked by the murder of a psychoanalyst and the brutal rape of a TV presenter. When it turns out that the three cases are connected, the heat is on to find the responsible parties. The deeper investigators Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein dig, the more disturbing the information they start to reveal, and for Pia, the implications strike a chord deep in her heart. All eyes are on a disgraced lawyer (a convicted pedophile) and a former bikie, both with links to the second two cases, but is that where they should be focused? Adding to the tangled web is a bitter police officer playing power games, the belligerent daughter of the TV presenter who takes it upon herself to follow her mother’s leads, and suggestions of corruption within the ranks.
The story is told from multiple third-person viewpoints, with some first-person accounts from a young girl recalling games her father used to play with her (no detail, fortunately). For the most part the multiple viewpoints work well, throwing information at the reader that’s cleverly crafted to lead them down the wrong track. Pace-wise, the story suffers a little in the middle, with more emphasis on context and background building than moving the story forward; however, this is rectified in the second half, with the loose ends neatly tied up. While I did figure out many of the twists early, there were still a couple of surprises I didn’t predict.
The subject matter is difficult and it may act as a trigger for some readers. It’s not graphic – but then who would want that in this type of case? The implication is bad enough. I think Neuhaus treats the subject of child sexual abuse as sensitively as she can in a crime thriller and I can only imagine that this would have been hard to write. As a reader, I felt a mixture of revulsion, horror and anger that some children are put through such horrifying abuse in reality, and the extent to which these crimes are covered up. The ending of the book echoes that in its own way, leaving the reader in no doubt (sadly) that despite ongoing worldwide and collaborative efforts to expose and end this abuse, it is widespread with deep roots.
Overall, a good crime novel that makes me want to read more from this author. It’s hard to enjoy a novel with such dark subject matter, but leaving that aside, I appreciated it as a well-written thriller. One last thing – often weather extremes are used to help create atmosphere and in Big Bad Wolf much was made of the heat. Reading this during a warmer than usual Autumn, with temperatures hotter than those mentioned in a book set in Summer, I had to smile. They call that hot, I thought … in my case, it didn‘t help set the atmosphere!
Read an extract here.
Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. My copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.
Bookish treat: A fresh, crunchy apple did the trick.