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by Nele Neuhaus and Steven T. Murray, trans
Minotaur Books, January 2015
352 pages
ISBN: 0312604262

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

One mystery follows another in THE ICE QUEEN, the third crime procedural by Nele Neuhaus featuring detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver Bodenstein. Steven T. Murray has skillfully translated this thriller from the original German. As the book opens, an old Jewish man, a holocaust survivor, has been found murdered execution style. During his autopsy they discover that his body has a tattoo marking him as a member of the Nazis SS. As Pia and her partner Oliver hunt for the perpetrator of this crime as well as the true identity of the victim, another elderly man is killed in the same fashion. And then an old woman dies in a similar way. All three knew each other, and were also close friends of Vera Kaltensee, the wealthy matriarch of a large dysfunctional family.

The Kaltensee family members harbor many secrets. A man named Thomas Ritter, who worked for Vera for eighteen years, has been fired under unclear circumstances and now appears to be writing a tell-all book about the family. He is filled with hatred toward her, and has covertly impregnated and married Vera's disabled granddaughter, basically for revenge.

Throughout the course of the novel, we are introduced to many relatives of this family and other families--fathers and sons, brothers and half-brothers, daughters and granddaughters. Some of the characters have changed their names. It soon becomes difficult to follow the intricacies of the relationships and connections, although relationships both in the past and the present are critical to the narrative and lead to the solution of the crimes. Elard, one of Vera's sons, seems especially troubled that he does not know who his father was. He is miserable for this reason and for other identity issues that we later discover.

In order to solve the murders, Pia and Oliver must investigate the past, the chaotic times right after WWII, when people lost track of families and records were destroyed. With the help of Vera's diary, they discover that many people are living lives based on lies. The detectives too have complicated personal lives. Pia's in love with a man but he has gone to South Africa on business and she is lonely. Her ex-husband is the medical examiner who does the autopsies and he seems to have a renewed interested in Pia. Bodenstein is happily married with a new baby but is attracted to Jutta Kaltensee, a politician.

Both of Neuhaus' previous books have been international bestsellers, and THE ICE QUEEN has been greatly praised as well. The author keeps the reader engaged in the many strands of the story, but those same strands often become entangled with unnecessary digressions and tangential material. The characters are unique, but perhaps there are too many and they do not have enough depth to make us care about them. I found the plot complicated and difficult to follow but was intrigued by the book's premise. I wanted to find out who all these victims were and why someone would want to kill them. The ICE QUEEN is a complex mystery and readers may enjoy it for just that reason.

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, January 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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