Thursday 22 March 2018

Crime: Woman of the Dead by Bernhard Aichner

Weidenfeld & Nicholson, €9.99

Woman of the Dead by Bernhard Aichner
Woman of the Dead by Bernhard Aichner

Hilary A White

The lengths some people go to in the name of “character research”. For this tale of an undertaker avenging the murder of her detective husband, Austrian writer Bernhard Aichner took himself off to work for six months as an undertaker’s assistant. As you do.

Such details are naturally irresistible to the marketing forces of the publishing world. That said, Aichner’s half-year sabbatical helping prep bodies for funerals looks to have worked. It’s probably the reason Woman of the Dead beats with an immediacy and tangibility that is all too rare in the clogged channels of the crime-thriller genre.

In Blum, his “colourful” protagonist, he has an anti-hero to beat them all. A mother-of-two who long ago inherited the family undertaker business after she decided she was done with her unpleasant parents, Blum is distraught when her beloved husband, her saviour from those dark days, is run down by a diabolical rape society that he was investigating.

At least momentarily she is.

Before you can say Kill Bill, Blum is gritting her teeth, hopping on her husband’s motorbike and speeding off with nothing but her rage and a morbid knowledge of the dead to fix the five-man club’s wagon, one at a time.

A bestseller in Germany and Aichner’s first to be translated into English, Woman of the Dead is devilishly good fun rendered essential by the sheer craft of its author. Using stabbing, staccato phraseology and some sense-tingling voicing in this memorable spirit of vengeance, Aichner just wants to grip you tight and show you a good time. There is no tedious police-procedural jabber, no gumshoe one-liners and none of the drab, claret-stained tropes that so many crime writers feel almost beholden to. Top notch.

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