In brief: Blum is a woman on a mission after his husband’s death – avenge him by bringing down the perpetrators of a group he was investigating.
The good: Blum is unique – I didn’t know whether I wanted to be her friend or hide from her.
The not-so-good: Blum can be cold-blooded, and things can get bloody.
Pages: 263 (ARC)
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Hachette)
Translator: Anthea Bell (from the German)
Setting: Austria and Germany
My rating: 7 out of 10
I’m always on the lookout for crime and thriller books with a difference. Jaded detectives and the good girl/boy gone bad don’t quite work for me anymore unless they have a huge twist. I like my main characters to be a bit quirky and interesting. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to fit that description than the main character of Bernhard Aichner’s Woman of the Dead, Blum (never Brunhilde).
Blum opens the story with a bang as she sunbakes nude on her family’s boat. Except they’re not really her family, but her adoptive parents and they have never shown her real love. Blum was brought into the family to work the funeral business since she was a young child. Now Blum is all grown up and her first mission – kill her parents by letting them drown. Here the reader sees the Blum’s calculating side for the first time. Fast forward several years and Blum is now a happy mother to two girls and married to Mark, a policeman. All is wonderful, glorious in fact, until Mark is killed in a hit and run accident. Then Blum feels the need not only to avenge his death, but extract revenge for the crimes the group committed on a group of young refugees. Armed with her wit and a white Cadillac hearse, Blum is going to ensure justice is served any way possible…
This book was described as Dexter meets Kill Bill meets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – I’ve only read the latter, so I can’t really make a good comparison. Blum is definitely a unique heroine, but she’s a little more grisly than Salender. At first, I didn’t know whether to be scared of Blum or admire her. She’s impassioned in her need for justice and not averse to a lot of blood and guts. She’s also calculating and ruthless. In the end, I can’t say I loved Blum, but I felt she deserved respect for doing things her way. Plus, what she did was for love and justice.
I’ve mentioned the blood and guts and there are several descriptions which clearly draw on Aichner’s research as an undertaker’s assistant in preparation for the book. I found them morbidly fascinating, from the use of special tampons to a bit of stitching. Woman of the Dead is probably not the kind of book to read over dinner if you’re squeamish. (I read it at night and had no nightmares). The writing is slightly cold (like Blum’s bodies in the cool room) and detached. I’m not sure if this is part of the translation (stellar job by Anthea Bell) or if Blum herself decided to tell the story as if she was slightly removed from it all, only showing deep emotion when talking about Mark or the injustice of the refugees held captive. I’d love to know if Blum will kill again to force a kind of justice, or whether her hunt was all for the love of her husband. Woman of the Dead is definitely original and if you enjoy your thrillers a little twisted and a lot bloody, you’ll enjoy this book.