The Kitchen by Simone Buchholz

The Kitchen by Simone Buchholz


Translated by Rachel Ward | Published by Orenda Books.

Beautiful cover design by Mark Swan

“The Kitchen” is my first read in Buchholz’ Chastity Riley series, and if this compact little mystery is indicative of the other books…I’m IN. I don’t mean to diminish the quality of “The Kitchen” by calling it “compact”; it’s a tightly written murder mystery that is also very thought-provoking about the abuses that women encounter and the helplessness they can feel as a result. Buchhholz’ voice is fresh and interesting; she tells the story with a dazzling mix of cynicism, outrage and a dark mordant humor. It begins with the epigraph “So, tell me now: How far would you go for your girlfriends?” Now that I’ve finished the book, I can’t stop thinking about that question.

Simone Buchholz

The book alternates between the voice of an anonymous woman and the first-person voice of Hamburg State Prosecutor Chastity Riley. Riley is preparing for a sex-trafficking trial of three men who enticed women from Romania to Hamburg, took their passports, and sent them to work in “shabby backstreet brothels in the Kiez”. She’s fiercely determined to bring them to justice.

Riley’s passion for prosecuting human traffickers is contrasted with her more ambiguous relationship with her neighbor, Klatsche: “we’re just two people who keep getting stuck on each other. Night owls, allies. But now and then, romance takes hold of us.” While she’s reviewing her trial notes, she gets a call that body parts have been discovered inside a garbage bag by a bay; a head, feet and hands…but no torso. Shortly after the bag is discovered, Riley gets a call from Klatsche to come home immediately; her friend Carla has been attacked by two men and raped repeatedly in her basement.

Now Riley has two missions: find the killer and see that Carla’s attackers are captured and punished. The two storylines inexorably converge in an utterly unexpected way.

Another bag of body parts is discovered with the same MO—killed by a similar blow, meticulously dismembered and in a neatly wrapped parcel. At the same time, her friend Carla is still raging and bitter over her attack and rejects Riley’s offers of help. Carla’s assault and Riley’s prosecution of the sex traffickers exert a profound effect on her thoughts about the murders.

“And then there are the body parts, about which I couldn’t give a flying fuck. I’ve never experienced that before, not giving a fuck about the dead, not caring who they were or why they had to die. I feel like whatever I do, I’m in totally the wrong key. As if I’m constantly trying to set foot on the ground, but I can’t manage it, either because I get distracted, or because the ground isn’t damn well there, where I thought it was.

As Riley continues to investigate, Buchholz skillfully drops hints about the solution, notably in the passages of the anonymous narrator. These become increasingly disturbing as the narrator relates the abuses inflicted upon her by the men throughout her life from a very young age. The reader gradually (and with a growing horror) becomes aware of the links between Riley’s investigation and the narrator’s stories.

I’m still thinking about the issues raised by this book; philosophical questions about the difference between justice and revenge and how they are meted out. Riley’s outrage and frustration are palpable as the motive for the murders becomes clear and the reader shares her ambivalence about the perpetrators. I’d like to call out Rachel Ward’s wonderful translation; it could not have been easy to preserve all of the irony and tension of the source material. “The Kitchen” is so much more than a great mystery noir and for this reason I cannot wait to read the other books in the series.

Please buy/order this book at your local independent bookstore! To find yours, visit Bookshop.org and Indiebound in the US or Indie Bookshops in the UK/Ireland.

The Kitchen was first published in English in the United Kingdom in 2024 by Orenda Books. Translation copyright © Rachel Ward 2024.

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