Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review of Black Ice by Hans Werner Kettenbach (Bitter Lemon Press, 2006; German 2001)

After serving in the German army Scholten has worked for over thirty years in the same construction firm and is devoted to Erica Wallman, the firm’s attractive heiress.  When Erica falls to her death at her lakeside villa, the police suspect an unfortunate accident or suicide.  Scholten, however, is not convinced.  He has been maintaining the property and is sure that the steps were in good repair, Erica would be sure-footed, and she would never take her own life.  However, his prime suspect, Erica’s philandering husband and his new boss, has a solid alibi.  That doesn’t stop Scholten from conducting his own investigation, deceiving both his boss and his wife, Hilde.  The problem is that if a murder has been committed, it was fiendishly clever in its design.

Black Ice is a somewhat curious read, centring on the suspicious death of Erica Wallman and its investigation by one of her employees, Scholten.  There are three principal characters in the story, each of whom are not easy to like.  Scholten is a bitter, sarcastic, scheming, lazy misogynist, who is always finding ways to steal time and visit brothels.  His wife, Hilde, is a straight-laced, nagging, hypochondriac who feels she’s married beneath herself.  Scholten’s new boss, Wallman, is a caustic bully.  The tale is told from Scholten’s perspective and traces his attempt to discover what really happened when Erica tumbled to her death.  At the heart of the tale is an ingenious solution, but the telling is a relatively slow paced affair as Scholten struggles to make progress with his investigation and dithers about how to use the circumstantial evidence he discovers.  The resolution is quite sudden and open ended.  At the time the ending annoyed me, but after a few days reflection I think it suited the piece.  Usually a story has a character to root for and a neat denouement, but Black Ice has neither.  In that sense, it’s a brave piece of writing, but not one that I found particularly enjoyable.

No comments: