Cities are fascinating backdrops for fiction, as every author comes at a place from a different angle. In my own fiction, I hesitated to write about my hometown of Edinburgh for a long time, because it was already such a familiar literary landscape. But every writer’s version of a city is unique, so I eventually succumbed.
For those who share my captivation, I highly recommend the utterly wonderful River Clyde by bestselling German author Simone Buchholz, translated thoughtfully by Rachel Ward. This is the fifth book in a crime fiction series revolving around state prosecutor Chastity Riley, a terrific character who is cynical and sardonic, but also full of heart and longing.
The previous books in the series have mostly been set in Hamburg, but this outing sees Riley travel to Glasgow, led by the suggestion of a house along the Clyde coastleft to her in a will. Riley is numbed by grief and shock from events in previous books, and the plot switches between her trying to find solace and a reason to continue on the streets of Glasgow, and her colleagues struggling without her back in Hamburg as they try to solve a series of arsons.
A contemplative examination of what it means to be alive and part of a community, with added fish suppers and pub chat
While there is crime in it, River Clyde is not really a crime novel at all. It’s a contemplative and existential examination of what it means to be alive and part of a community, with added fish suppers and pub chat. It’s absolutely fascinating seeing a city that you’re familiar with through the eyes of a visitor, and Buchholz’s prose is poetic, sinewy, strange and mysterious.
The river coursing through the city and beyond becomes a narrator of sorts as Riley teams up with Tom, an old man who used to love her great-aunt, in an effort to help each other and find meaning.
As they travel up Gare Loch, it becomes an odyssey. Are they escaping their past or looking to the future? All the while, the river is there watching, waiting. This is daring, original and beguiling fiction of the highest order, a book that make you see the familiar anew.