Snow White Must DieI was intrigued by this book’s title, and discovered it was the first novel published in English (in translation) by popular German crime writer Nele Neuhaus.

“Snow White” was the nickname of one of the two teenaged girls who went missing from the small village of Altenhain, near Frankfurt. Their bodies were never found, but enough circumstantial evidence was brought to convict Tobias Sartorius of their murders. A decade later, his release from prison and return to Altenhain sets in motion a new series of crimes.

The story is told from a number of perspectives. Tobias’s, of course, as well as the two investigating police officers: insightful and capable Pia Kirchhoff and her boss, patrician Oliver von Bodenstein. And there’s Amelie, a tough young newcomer to Altenhain, who’s sympathetic toward Tobias and curious about what really happened to the two girls.

The book opens with an intriguing scene, but then builds slowly in the first few chapters, introducing main characters and delving into their backstories. I was ready to give up when the plot began to gel: a missing file here, a nervous politician there, furtive meetings, and surprising alliances. The dull village of Altenhain is harboring some nasty secrets, and Neuhaus does a good job of balancing dramatic tension with the details of police procedure, the heart of any good detective story.

I liked Snow White Must Die, but its narrative style felt flat, somewhat stiff, almost mechanical. I’m not sure if that’s the result of reading in translation; I felt as if I was reading the story “once removed,” as if through a screen or curtain. I recall that Camilla Läckburg’s books (translated from Swedish) offered a similar—but not nearly so pervasive—experience of reading “differently.” Läckburg’s style always felt a little simplistic to me: writing parsed for a slightly lower-than-average reading level

Is it the act of reading in translation alone, or is it the translation combined with different grammatical and literary styles of the original languages? Definitely something to pay attention to in the future.

In any case: an interesting opportunity to “pursue crime” in a contemporary German setting.