Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer

I received a Review Copy of this ebook through Edelweiss. If you're interested in getting advanced copies of books, this is a good resource as some are available for immediate download.

I am really torn about this book. I sincerely wanted to like it, but I feel like it had too many little marks against it for me to give it a stellar review. Here are my thoughts:

The Sweetness of Life is the English translation of a German mystery/thriller, set to be released December 2. Perhaps due to the fact that it is translated, or maybe just coincidentally, the style is somewhat reminiscent of the novels of Steig Larsson or Jussi Adler-Olsen, but this novel is not executed nearly as well as those I have read by the aforementioned authors.

The story is a good one -- really a horrible one if you look at it from the perspective of the characters. A grandfather is found dead by his young granddaughter, who then stops talking. As the child psychologist and the local police work to discover the old man's murderer, the story becomes quite complex as more and more people become intertwined.

The thing I love most about this book is the shifting perspectives. Some chapters are written in third person and others are written in first person. In some chapters, it takes a while for the reader to understand which character is narrating. This shifting perspective really helps to develop the mystery. Some characters have obvious suspicions about the identity of the killer, while others stick more to the facts of the case. Other characters seem to be wholly disconnected from the heart of the story, but since they are there, the reader becomes suspicious of them as well. This is very well done.

So I don't hate the book. I feel it has many points in its favor. However...

I feel that there are too many minor characters introduced with too much detail, which leads nowhere. For example, the reader is told quite a bit of detail about Dr. Horn's coworkers. These people are minor characters, having little or nothing to do with the main plot, and I felt the details provided about them were unnecessary. Other characters who later become more central to the story are less developed. I would love to know more about Joseph Bauer, Bjorn Gasselik, and Joachim Fux.

My other gripe with this novel is its abrupt ending. The murderer is revealed on the final page of the book, seemingly out of nowhere. I think that if some of the characters I mentioned earlier were more developed, this revelation would make more sense. But perhaps that is the point. After all, this is a psychological thriller and much of the book is spent inside the minds of the various characters, many of whom have psychological disorders.

And that is why I feel so ambivalent about this book. Hochgatterer has published the second installment in the "Kovacs and Horn Investigation" series and I am interested to see if it is better. For now, I would probably only recommend The Sweetness of Life with strong reservations.

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