Nothing much happens in the village of Altenhain -- it's the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else's secrets -- but in 1997 two teenage girls disappeared. Circumstantial evidence led to a local man being convicted of the girls' murders. Ten years later, Tobias Sartorius returns to Altenhain and the villagers are none too pleased. Though Tobi always claimed he had no memory of what occurred the night of the so called murders, very few people believed him. In fact, most of the townspeople were glad to see Tobias behind bars and would prefer that he'd stayed there. In the years that he'd been imprisoned, Tobi's family took the brunt of the villagers' frustrations leaving the family business in a shambles and the couple separated. The same day Tobi is released, two things happen: a body is discovered at an abandoned airfield and Tobi's mother is attacked. Pia Kirchhoff and her boss Oliver von Bodenstein become involved in both cases. When the body is identified as that of one of the long missing girls, Pia begins digging into the old case files and soon finds a number of questionable discrepancies. It also becomes clear that the folks in Altenhain are hiding things, not least of which is the identity of Tobi's mother's attacker. When another Altenhain girl is reported missing suspicion immediately turns once again to Tobias. But Pia has her doubts.
Already a bestseller in her native Germany as well as internationally, Snow White Must Die is Nele Neuhaus's first release here in the States. The title is, however, the fourth in the series featuring Kirschhoff and Bodenstein. Fortunately, though it's clear there is plenty of backstory between the two investigators and some mention of previous cases, this particular title does fare pretty well as an introduction to the series.
I really enjoyed the build and the tension in Altenhain. Tobias himself is not certain of his innocence, but as a reader it's easy to be sympathetic with him. I wanted more than anything for him to be innocent (but I won't reveal whether he is or not). And Amelie -- she could carry a book all on her own in my opinion. She does more in the way of investigation through the beginning of the book than the actual police do. But then they're not actually supposed to be investigating Tobias. In fact, Pia is warned off of digging into that old case even after Laura Wagner's body is identified.
It was a bit harder to connect with Pia and Oliver. Much of the first 2/3 of the book is devoted almost completely to Tobias and Altenhain as a whole. There's friction in the investigative department that's briefly touched on and issues with Oliver and his wife, but with the exception of the glimpses we get into Oliver's relationship issues, it felt as though Pia was the only one to get a bit more face time throughout the book. Even she is relegated to reading files and interviewing Altenhain locals and not much is introduced in the way of her personal life.
I'm not sure of the motivation behind releasing this fourth book as an introduction to the series, but it's possible that what I've mentioned above is actually what lends Snow White Must Die well to being an introduction to Neuhaus's work. And fortunately the publisher has plans to release at least one more title in the series here in the US as well. As there are currently seven titles in the series as a whole, I'd hope that these first two do well enough for us to get more English translations of Neuhaus's work in the future. Initial reaction to the release seems positive and the publisher noted that their ad in Shelf Awareness for SWMD was the most clicked through in SA history!
Snow White Must Die was translated by Steven T. Murray and I thought in terms of translation this was very good. In fact, as a whole the translation read very smoothly and there was nothing obviously missing from the story in the way of narrative, style, or emotion.