I’m delighted to be taking part in the tour for Beton Rouge by Simone Buchholz. This is the next Chastity Riley book after Blue Night, published by Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books. Thank you to Karen and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part. My blog buddy today is the lovely Karen over at hairpastafreckle so feel free to check out her post. I have the opening extract for you to read but first the blurb.
On a warm September morning, an unconscious man is found in a cage at the entrance to the offices of one of the biggest German newspapers. Closer inspection shows he is a manager of the company, and he’s been tortured. Three days later, another manager appears in similar circumstances.
Chastity Riley and her new colleague Ivo Stepanovic are tasked with uncovering the truth behind the attacks, an investigation that goes far beyond the revenge they first suspect … to the dubious past shared by both victims. Travelling to the south of Germany, they step into the elite world of boarding schools, where secrets are currency, and monsters are bred … monsters who will stop at nothing to protect themselves.
A smart, dark, probing thriller, full of all the hard-boiled poetry and acerbic wit of the very best noir, Beton Rouge is both a classic whodunit and a scintillating expose of society, by one of the most exciting names in crime fiction.
The cage is made of black metal. It has thick, extremely robust-looking bars, and it’s not particularly big. Just large enough for a grown man to fit inside if you fold him in half first. The man is about forty, maybe even forty-five, it’s hard to say for sure. He’s very thin and in pretty good shape, and his features are perfectly formed. His dark hair is cut short at the back and sides, but just a fraction over-long on top; strands fall onto his face. Combed back, the style demands a suit. But at the moment, the man is naked and injured and so far out of his senses that it’s hard for my mind to sustain the businesslike image of the guy that it’s built up without my even thinking about it. He has welts on his wrists and ankles, as if he’s spent quite a while tied up. His whole body is covered with livid bruises and scratches. And, as if I’m looking at a bloody, weeping painting, somehow I get a sense of something very much like despair – but I can’t say where the despair is coming from: from the man who’s been stuffed in the cage like a rabid animal, or from the person who’s done it. What I’m looking at seems to depict a complete absence of voluntary action.
I have to take a deep breath, and then another and another, before I can move a few steps closer.
It looks as though the naked man’s consciousness is now working its way, bit by bit, to the surface. His eyes are closed and he’s slowly moving his head to and fro while one of the two uniformed policemen tortures the padlock on the cage with a bolt cutter – it’s obviously putting up quite a fight. It’s a pretty impressive padlock – it’s about the size of a small loaf of bread and it looks a couple of hundred years old. The cage has been placed right outside the main entrance to the building. If you want to go through the revolving glass door, you have to pass the cage. Seen from the harbour, the massive glass façade resembles a gigantic cruise ship; now it’s reflecting the sun, which is pushing through the clouds in perfect time with the man in the cage coming round.
A sprinkling of onlookers stands round the cage. Some are smoking, and judging by their coolness and unobtrusively elegant clothes, a few are journalists. OK, they’re running a bit late, but they can’t just walk past this confusing arrangement on their way to work. The majority look more like tourists – part of the horde that the harbour disgorges every morning. They’re wearing little rucksacks, cropped trousers and practical jackets. It always strikes me that tourists in Hamburg look completely different from tourists in Munich or Berlin, where it wouldn’t occur to anybody to stick a sou’wester on their head. Some even have those mad, modern walking sticks. Perhaps they think Hamburg is already on the North Sea, although that’s a good thirty to fifty years off yet. It freaks me out that some people plan so far in advance, even if it’s only for one holiday. I prefer to take things as they come.
‘Morning,’ I say, coming to stand beside the two policemen.
‘Morning, Ms Riley,’ says the one standing up, who either wants to leave the other guy to get on with it or is simply above such a task. We must have met, seeing as he knows my name this early in the morning. He’s definitely in his late fifties, has a mighty belly, and there are grey curls on the back of his neck, curling under his uniform cap. The name on his police jacket reads ‘Flotow’. Ah, I remember: Station 16, on Lerchenstrasse.
‘We met at Lerchenstrasse,’ I say.
‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘Switched six months ago. Station 14, Caffamacherreihe.’ He shoves his hands in his trouser pockets in that passive-aggressive way beloved of fattish, older, not particularly tall men, and looks reproachfully at me. ‘I’d had it up to here with the red-light scene in the Kiez.’
As if the Kiez were my responsibility. When it’s more like the Kiez is responsible for me.
Sergeant Flotow turns back to his colleague, who’s still sweating and cursing over the lock. ‘Get a move on, Hoschi. The poor bloke’ll wake up soon, and then he’ll start screaming at us too.’
Hoschi grunts, and I imagine that it means something like ‘get on with it yourself, dickhead’, but, unfortunately for Hoschi, the four pale-blue stars on Sergeant Flotow’s epaulets make it abundantly clear who’s in charge here – and whose job it is to kindly get on with wrestling with the bloody lock.
‘Officer Lienen,’ says Flotow, pointing at his colleague on the pavement.
‘Morning Mr Lienen,’ I say, kneeling down beside him.
He’s nearly got the lock.
‘You’ve nearly got the lock,’ I say, trying to look encouraging. Unfortunately, encouraging looks aren’t part of my skillset, so the result is a kind of tic that nobody understands.
Lienen looks at me, his eyes narrowed to slits. His expression conveys such violent contempt for his boss that I think: Hoschi, you and I should go for a beer, preferably right now.
‘Exhibiting a person in a cage,’ I say. ‘That’s properly sick.’
‘You should have seen what was going on here when we arrived,’ says Lienen, shaking his head in a way that’s half annoyed and half confused.
‘What was going on?’
The padlock gives – crack – way and falls apart. Lienen stands up. He holds the bolt cutter like a baseball bat.
‘Well,’ says Flotow, ‘people weren’t exactly acting civilised.’
Lienen pushes back his cap and wipes the sweat from his brow.
‘Meaning?’ I ask.
‘They were doing something very unpleasant,’ says Flotow.
Aha. Doing something very unpleasant. Do I really have to winkle every detail out of him? I more or less plant myself in front of Flotow.
‘Don’t make me winkle every detail out of you,’ I say. ‘What was the situation in the moment you arrived? And what is it now?’
He sucks his teeth, nods in an oh-so-it’s-like-that kind of way, straightens his trousers without taking his hands out of his pockets, which leaves them pulled up much too high, then rocks to and fro on his toes and looks at me like I’m a badly brought-up child. I look back as truculently as possible, and because he can’t decide on the spot which of us is stronger, he decides not to let it come to that.
‘The woman at reception rang us,’ he says. ‘That was about half past eight. She said something about an unpleasant crowd of people outside the building. And that she thought someone was in danger. But she wouldn’t be more precise, not even when pressed.’
Lienen kneels in front of the cage again and tries to cover the naked man with one of those gold thermal blankets.
‘And then?’ I ask.
‘We set off,’ says Flotow.
He still has his hands in his trouser pockets, and he’s still trying to run me aground.
But he thinks better of it.
‘There were about fifty people,’ he says. ‘They were just standing there. And some of them – I literally had to look twice because I couldn’t believe it – they were spitting at the cage. When we pulled up in the patrol car, they went into the building.’
You were lucky, old man.
‘It was dead quiet,’ says Lienen, ‘and they were spitting. It was creepy.’ He doesn’t look at me – keeps his eyes on the man in the golden cape. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. It felt like it could escalate at any minute. They looked like predators, just before they fall on their prey. They weren’t even taking photos, and people take photos of everything these days. They really were just standing there, spitting, and working the poor bloke over with their eyes.’
‘Were you able to get their details?’ I ask.
‘A few of them,’ says Lienen. ‘But there were too many, and they hurried away and vanished inside.’ He nods towards the glass façade. ‘The place is massive. And there were only two of us. The CID guys are here now, in the foyer, still trying to pin a few people down.’
He twitches the foil blanket straight. The things are so damn slippery that a bit of the person the foil’s meant to be protecting is always left sticking out.
‘And somebody had to call an ambulance first,’ he says.
‘True,’ I say. ‘Where’s it got to, anyway?’
The man in the cage is starting to move. He puts his left hand to his face and tries to support himself on his right. The gold foil slips. Lienen speaks softly to him.
‘Call them again, please,’ I say to Flotow, then I kneel in front of the cage next to Lienen.
The man opens his eyes and glances enquiringly at us: Am I dead?
Bottom left, at the foot of the steps, a brown Mercedes races into my field of vision. The driver spins the tyres with a screech, then he stops, gets out, stretches somewhat awkwardly and climbs the steps just as fast as he drove up.
You can buy Beton Rouge here.
Simone Buchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen-School in Hamburg. In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award as well as the second Place of the German Crime Fiction Prize for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.