When Poetry Turns Deadly…

U1_978-3-8052-5045-0.inddAs a poet wedded to social media (although my drugs of choice are blogging and Twitter rather than Facebook), I could not resist the premise of this crime novel Blinde Vögel (Blind Birds) by Ursula Poznanski, which I picked up at the airport in Hamburg.

[From the blurb (my translation)]

Status: Murdered. Two dead bodies at a camping site in Salzburg. She was strangled, he was shot. There was no obvious connection between the two while they were alive. Or are appearances deceptive? Salzburg detectives Beatrice Kaspary and Florin Wenninger find a surprising common bond: both were members of an internet-based poetry forum. As harmless as could be. Beatrice follows her gut feeling and infiltrates the group, pretending to be a lover of poetry. Shortly afterwards, there is a third death… 

Author picture from die-criminale.de
Author picture from die-criminale.de

I have to admit that Salzburg is one of my favourite cities and I am always susceptible to Austrian authors. Poznanski is also a YA and children’s author, and she has a very easy, chatty writing style.

This is a solid and fun police procedural, with two sympathetic and mutually supportive detectives. Beatrice is divorced and struggling to juggle family responsibilities, her resentful ex-husband and work. Florin is more than a little attracted to her but unwilling to declare himself. But their personal stories do not intrude at all on the investigation, which keeps you guessing pretty much all the way through. The author plays fair and puts quite a few cards on the table. It’s not all quick action or graphic violence, but much more of a puzzle to solve, which I really appreciated. And a lot of Facebook chat and gossipy reactions to wade through, which some readers may find dull (I personally saw it as satirical, with the readiness to click on ‘Like’ at a drop of a hat).

You also get to familiarise yourself with some of the great poems of German literature (this is not a poetry writing but a poetry appreciation forum). The title comes from a poem by Rilke.

So yes, airport reading, but with plenty of panache, verve and charm. I want to read more by this author and wonder what people will make of her in English. Her first book featuring Beatrice and Florin has been translated as ‘Five’ (under the author name Ursula P. Archer) and is about murder in the geo-caching milieu. I haven’t read it yet, but that sounds like a rather unusual premise too.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot of Blind Birds away, but there is a link to the war in the former Yugoslavia and, coincidentally, I just read another book on this subject at the same time Girl at War, so it was an interesting opportunity to compare how the war is discussed in Austria (where everyone was very familiar with it and there were many refugees moving in) vs. the US, where it seemed relatively remote and an uncomfortable truth.

13 thoughts on “When Poetry Turns Deadly…”

  1. Oh, this sounds like a great read for you. Now I’m wondering why someone would want to murder members of a poetry appreciation forum…

    1. Ah, well, looking at the recent brouhaha about the Poetry Chair at Oxford University, you start to realise poetry can be deadly serious…

  2. Oh, this does sound good, Marina Sofia! I wish my German weren’t so pathetic. I’ll have to wait for an English translation.

    1. I read it pretty much in one go, at the airport, on the plane and later on that evening, so it certainly has page-turning power without being a relentlessly paced thriller.

  3. I wonder why the author was renamed for the English translation of her earlier novel? Seems v. strange.

    This one sounds super! Thanks for writing about it.

    1. Apparently her publishers in the UK (US? not sure) thought Poznanski was too much of a mouthful for us English speakers… Archer is apparently a name of a certain branch of her family, but I hope it won’t make people think she is related to Jeffrey Archer!

      1. It’s “Archer” in the US, too, although the local library catalog directs seekers after Archer to look under Poznanski, the name under which a different publisher quite happily released a YA book of hers.

    1. Reading a book in a foreign language that you are not 100% comfortable with can make pleasure turn into drudgery (I know from bitter experience).

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