The Lie by Petra Hammesfahr

Theme: International Thrillers

Petra Hammesfahr~Germany

It was unreal.  In Nadia’s clothes, with Nadia’s rings on her finger and the bag under her arm containing everything that proved Nadia’s identity.  A little more lipstick, eye shadow and mascara, her hair freshly died and cut by an expert, Nadia’s stud earrings in her ears – and the illusion would have been perfect.

A best seller in Germany, The Lie is one of those novels that despite its adherence to the confines of the genre and its many flaws, I still liked it enough for me to include amongst the other titles of International Thrillers.  It’s one of those novels that for all its obvious shortcomings, it shouldn’t work.  But the implausibility of so many of the twists and turns is excused by the ingenuity of those very twists and turns and the Hammesfahr’s obvious strength with pacing and tension. There are autobahn chases, sex, cyber spying, identity theft and a few thugs which is more than enough to make this book a muddled but entertaining literary escapade.

The plot itself is a hard sell.  Two women, Susanne Lasko and Nadia Trenkler, who are not related but look identical, end up meeting coincidentally.  Of course, wink wink, it’s not really happenstance.  Susanne Lasko is down and out – out of job, mom in the old folks home, divorced, no love prospects in the future, childless and lives in a tenement where she is constantly harassed by an alcoholic ex-con.  She had been married to a famous reporter, Deiter, with whom she supported during most of their marriage.  He makes it big and leaves her.  She was doing well as a business woman who worked in a bank, but of all the rotten luck, the bank is held-up and she is taken as a hostage and left abused and abandoned for two days by her captors.  Since this incident, she can’t seem to walk into a bank again.  Her skill set is limited to bank work and the jobs she does try to get require either language or computer skills, which she has neither.  It’s difficult to believe that someone of her professional experience is computer illiterate, but Susanne is not necessarily the type to keep up with modern technology. 

Out of money and hope, successful and rich Nadia Trenkler meets her in front of an elevator and attempts to inveigle her to coffee or lunch.  Of course Susanne accepts…she has no better offers.  After some push and pull, Nadia eventually convinces Susanne to become her ‘stand-in’ at home.  Nadia claims she is in love and doesn’t want her husband to know that she is sneaking off a couple of weekends a month to meet with her paramour.  Nadia is flush with the money and offers Susanne 500 euros for each weekend.  This eventually gets upped to 2000 euros each weekend.  Susanne is in such a dreadful way, she has to accept.  Operation Nadia stand-in is underway.  Susanne gets her hair cut and colored like Nadia, waxes all her parts like Nadia, pierces her ears like Nadia, and talks like Nadia.  How would Nadia’s supposed two-timing hubby Michael know the difference?  Nadia and Michael are hardly on good terms and besides, there’s just the incident of Susanne’s birthmark that Michael would only notice if she were naked?  And she would have no reason to get naked with Michael because Nadia and Michael are not really sleeping together, right?  You know,
things happen. 

The plot is so convoluted and unbelievable that after awhile you just give up trying to believe it and surrender to the ride.  There are too many characters and too many details for the reader to possibly remember.  There are also a few things that don’t add up.  But Hammesfahr, who is a well-known author in her own country, does keep the reader completely engaged with the tension.  Every scene ups the anxiety that Susanne’s identity will be revealed, with each plot development Nadia is uncovered as a manipulative, greedy woman who is clever and outrageous, and the reader’s sympathy for Susanne grows deeper with her continual turns of bad luck.  Things change so quickly and new clues appear at breakneck speed, there’s no time to question some of the logistics.  The one striking trait about Susanne that feels inauthentic is that for someone who agrees to do this out of desperation and who seems not to be the inquisitive type, she goes out of her way to get more involved in the mayhem by constantly questioning all the happens around her.  Not only does she work herself into the role of amateur sleuth, but she seems pretty savvy for someone who has had trouble landing a job.  As intricate as this scheme is, computers would seem like a walk down Easy Street as opposed to cobbling together this jigsaw of a plot.  Yet again, the reader is invested in her and ignores the slight contradictions of Susanne’s character the pop up frequently throughout the story. 

All the situations that arise for Susanne will leave you wondering what would you do in that situation.  That alone is worth the read.  The prose isn’t outstanding, but it does the no nonsense job well enough.  You’re not stumbling over clunky phrasing and because this was translated for  British audience, some words might stop an American reader for a second but nothing major.  Mr. Mitchell, a virtuoso of German, also translated a previous title in this theme,
In Matto’s Realm.  He definitely has his way with German language mystery/thrillers.  This book is a fun and imaginative read that is not generic nor easily figured out.  It will keep you guessing and sometimes that is all we want form a thriller.

The Lie

By Petra Hammesfahr
Translated bu Mike Mitchell
Bitter Lemon Press
Paperback, 325 pp.
ISBN: 9781904738428

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