The Cleaner by Elisabeth Herrmann

The Blurb On The Back:

An unforgettable heroine. 

An unforgiveable past.

Pools of blood, scenes of carnage, signs of agonising death – who deals with the aftermath of violence once the bodies have been taken away?

Judith Kepler has seen it all.  She is a crime scene specialist.  She turns crime scenes back into habitable spaces.  She is a cleaner.  But when she is called to the home of a woman who has been brutally murdered, she is suddenly confronted with her own past.

As Judith begins to ask questions, she comes to the attention of former members of the Stasi, and becomes the target of some powerful enemies.  Will she be able to get to the truth whilst keeping the secret she’s held all these years? 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

1985, East Germany.  A young girl is brought to an orphanage.  She says her name is Christel Sonnenberg, but the authorities insist her name is Judith Kepler …

25 years later and Judith is a recovering drug addict who makes a living by working as a cleaner, specialising in cleaning up crime scenes.  When her boss, Dombrowski, asks her to clean the apartment of a young woman found murdered, Kepler is surprised to discover that the girl has links to the same orphanage that Judith grew up in.  Even stranger, she interrupts a member of the BND (the German intelligence service) removing spy cameras from the apartment.  Her only ally in her search for answers is Quirin Kaiserley, a former BND operative who’s now obsessed with discovering a microfilm that identifies all of the former East German Stasi’s agents in the West, certain that some of them are now in positions of power.  But as the two close in on the answers, they realise that there’s a conspiracy in place that will do anything – and kill anyone – to keep their secrets …

Elisabeth Herrmann’s spy thriller (translated from German by Bradley Schmidt) has a clever premise that makes great use of East Germany’s history and the tricky issues thrown up by reunification but the story itself is clunky, especially the dialogue, and Judith’s behaviour never rings true while the romance teased with Kaiserley is tedious and unconvincing, which means that ultimately this is an okay read rather than a great one.

The big problem, for me, was Judith.  Her troubled background read a little by-the-numbers for me and her reactions to certain situations didn’t convince (particularly the scenes where she starts shouting at people for no reason) and I found her repressed memories to be an artificial device.  Similarly, I found Kaislerley to be a dull lead and didn’t really care about his quest for the truth (which a twist with a supporting character actually made me laugh), while I guessed the identity of the antagonist far too early on.  What works though is the sense of unease and compromise that followed German reunification and how it encouraged nastier secrets to be buried for the greater good and Hermann does well with the conspiracy elements as former Stasi agents work to protect their pasts.  Ultimately although this book didn’t quite work for me, I would check out Herrmann’s other work.

THE CLEANER was released in the United Kingdom on 23rd March 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

 

 

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