ZEN AND THE ART OF MURDER by Oliver Bottini

image001 (1) ZEN AND THE ART OF MURDER

Oliver Bottini (www.bottini.de)

Translated by Jamie Bulloch

MacLehose Press (www.maclehosepress.com)

£16.99

A Buddhist monk walks through the small Black Forest village of Liebau, bruises on his face leaving local residents with a fear that trouble will follow in his wake. Detective Louise Bonì is assigned to the case by her boss in Freiburg, initially reluctant because it’s a Saturday and it’s her day off. But when she spends a night in the forest with the monk, she is determined to find out who he is, where he came from, and who – or what – he is running from. As a trail of dead bodies begins to stack up in the monk’s wake, Louise finds herself butting heads with her superiors, as she discovers a child trafficking group operating in the area. With little help from her colleagues, Louise must find who these people are, and how they are related to the mysterious monk, before they can send any more children to hell.

Zen and the Art of Murder is the first of Oliver Bottini’s Black Forest Investigations, and despite being over twelve years old, it holds up well. The central character is Louise Bonì, a maverick detective who finds it difficult to fit into a team, and who is battling her own demons, trauma brought on by the killing of a criminal in a previous case. Bonì is respected for her abilities as a detective, though she is constantly aware that she is a woman in a world that is most definitely male dominated.

Some of her colleagues called her “Luis”, effacing both her French background and her gender.

Bonì finds herself “on-call” when her boss receives the call from a provincial police chief about the Japanese monk, despite the fact that it’s Saturday, and her day off. It’s an excuse for her boss to open disciplinary proceedings against her, and get her the psychological help she so obviously needs following her run-in with René Calambert, and the heinous crime that drove her to shoot him dead. At first reluctant, once she meets the monk, Bonì is determined to get to the bottom of his situation. Injured, and clearly terrified of what might be chasing him, it’s obvious he is on the run from something horrific and evil. When the local police find themselves ambushed by a group of men seen following the monk, Bonì is determined to close the case, regardless of the consequences for herself or her career.

While it has a picture postcard setting – what could be more beautiful than the Black Forest in the snow? – and an almost quirky opening, Zen and the Art of Murder pulls no punches when it comes to the crimes committed in the area.

Calambert had folded up the girl like a piece of paper so she would fit in the boot of his car. Annetta. Raped, beaten, strangled. And still she had survived for four days.

Bonì’s reputation is hard-won, and her past provides a glimpse of the horrors we will encounter as we follow the monk’s back trail. This is not a story for the faint-of-heart, hardboiled crime fiction in a modern-day European setting.

There is much to love about Bottini’s first Black Forest Investigation – meaty characters, beautiful settings, horrific crimes that might be grabbed from the headlines – so it’s strange that it has taken so long for them to appear in English translation. Jamie Bulloch’s translation is – as always – excellent, grabbing the reader from the opening line, and holding our attention through to the final satisfying twist. The Summer of Murder, the second book in the series, is scheduled for release this coming August, and is sure to cement Bottini as a writer that we should all be watching very closely. In unearthing this gem, the ever-reliable MacLehose Press adds yet another must-read author to their stable of foreign crime writers – which already includes luminaries such as Stieg Larsson and Pierre Lemaitre – and introduces the English-speaking world to a flavour of crime novel that we haven’t previously encountered.

If you’re looking for something fresh and new, Zen and the Art of Murder could be just the book you’re looking for. Atmospheric and engaging, it’s the start of a series that’s likely to reach Wallander or Rebus heights, making Louise Bonì a household name, and Oliver Bottini an author we’ll be talking about for some time to come. This is definitely one not to be missed.

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