Five by Ursula Archer

The top five most important facts about this book (in my worldview):

five (review)//wanderaven

1. When Macmillan/Minotaur offered it for early review, I was suckered in by the raven on the cover. Anything corvid-related and I am on board. But there's no ravens in here. I'm pretty sure there was never even a raven calling forlornly/wickedly in the background of a scene anywhere.

2. But the book having no ravens was mostly made up for by it having lots of geocaching. I actually geocache. Well, not so much lately but primarily because my free time given over to searching for things in the wilderness has transitioned over to letterboxing (similar to geocaching but there's no GPS involved and you trade (hopefully) homemade stamps in books instead of (usually) useless trinkets). A fellow geocacher (okay, my boyfriend, who introduced me to the pastime) has always said he thought that geocaching was just rich for a murder mystery background. Though I warily agreed with him, the warily part was due to concern that either someone would create such a novel whose primary talent was in geocaching and not so much in writing, or that it would be a cozy mystery with a sort of silly focus on geocaching. If you're wondering the same things, let me assure you right now that the writing here is great, and this is absolutely not a fluffy, cozy mystery (in fact, it's quite gruesome). 

five (review)//wanderaven

3. Apparently, the American publishers think that Ursula Archer is a more American-friendly pseudonym than her (assumably) real name of Ursula Poznanski. I haven't much to say about this (I'm sure the marketing team knows what it's doing... as it took me three toggles back and forth between her website and this post to spell the last name right), other than that it made for some initial frustrating and confusing Googling when trying to find out about her whilst preparing the post. She's an Austrian author, primarily of books for children and young adults, and this book appears to have initially been published in German.

4. And speaking of Austria, when was the last time you read an Austrian set (and written) thriller? I have done so, I'm sure (or a literary novel, at least), but I can't conjure up another recent book.

5. I'm pretty excited about Archer's American debut adult novel. There were a few frustrating elements that knocked it down a bit for me. The killer kept taunting the police that they were taking too long to solve the initial (and subsequent) murders... and the killer was absolutely right; as I reader, I felt like it took far too long. Not the novel, but the actual investigative process. It really did seem like, given the resources available to them (and a supervisor browbeating them about their process, whom they could've asked for even more help), the investigators really could've made much quicker progress. Perhaps there's an intent on Archer's part to make the process a bit more realistic (this is just a theory, I didn't see any particular thing to indicate this), but there's a reason I'm reading a fictional thriller, and not a factual textbook about police procedure. Also, the characters surrounding the protagonist, Beatrice, were rather one-dimensional, and her reactions to them often confused or annoyed me. Beatrice's mother seems like a perfect, fairy-goddess all-accepting angel (though to be fair, she didn't spend much time on the page), while Beatrice's ex-husband was an incredibly nasty, degrading, and potentially violent stalker. I kept expecting some sort of justification or motivation (even if it wasn't excusable) for his behavior but the nearest I ever came was that they were divorced. But then, at one point, she actually wonders wistfully whether she misses hanging out with him and the children, as a family. Then, Beatrice's brother completely sides with her ex-husband's behavior, blaming his behavior on Beatrice's actions. And what does she do? Playfully ruffle his hair and tell him how much she loves him. And speaking of one-dimensional, Beatrice's also verbally abusive boss seems to be so purely because he's a misogynist (which exists, of course, but he would've been much more believable had he been given any backstory or especially any interaction with Beatrice which would explain his behavior other than his assumption that she's a weak woman who's probably on her period or pregnant).

But there's certainly some exciting stuff here, too. Archer has created a compelling and complicated mystery that kept me up late at night (alone, in a creaking house, no less), worrying, and wondering, and guessing. It's gruesome, frustrating (in that good mystery sort of way), and different, given the Austrian and geocaching elements (and I assure you that the geocaching is both pertinent and does not weaken the narrative).