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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'The Vanishing of Katharina Linden' by Helen GRANT

Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

On the day Katharina Linden disappears, Pia is the last person to see her alive. Terror is spreading through the town. How could a ten-year-old girl vanish in a place where everybody knows everybody else?

Pia is determined to find out what happened to Katharina.

But then the next girl disappears . . .

‘The Vanishing of Katharina Linden’ has one of the most spine-chillingly ominous opening chapters I have ever read;

Looking back on that year, those were innocent days; a time when my mother cheerfully allowed me at the tender age of ten to roam the town unsupervised – a time when parents let their children out to play without once entertaining the horrific notion that they might not return home again.

That came later, of course.

This opener perfectly sets the tone for the rest of this edgy YA novel. A girl is presumed abducted when she goes missing during a town parade. Every member of the German town of Bad Münstereifel was present, but none know what happened to Katharina Linden. She has vanished. Soon more girls go missing, and the parents of Bad Münstereifel are forced to take drastic measures, question everyone, and trust no one to keep their children safe.

Pia, 10 years old, narrates. Amidst the hunt for the missing girls, Pia is told ghost stories and German folklore that she comes to believe may be the answer to finding the abducted girls...

Though this story's heroine is a child, the book will certainly appeal to adults for its twisted and layered mystery plot. The mystery of the missing girls is made all the more frightening by the fact that the events are being recounted in the innocent voice of Pia. As readers we have an inkling that what has happened to the girls is far more sinister and awful than anything in Pia’s fairytales, but Pia herself is hell-bent on the idea of a fantastical explanation.

The child-narrator is not a new concept. Niccolò Ammaniti’s ‘I’m not Scared’ and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ both use such a writing mechanism to communicate paradise lost and examine evil through the eyes of a child. I would say Helen Grant’s book uses this child narration device as effectively as those fabulous writers before her, and it’s a delightfully sinister narration to get lost in.

I think Helen Grant revels in red herrings. There were many times when reading this that I kept expecting the plot to take a fantastical turn. It was partly to do with all the fairytales that Pia is told, and also the German village setting which feels very ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and provides a bit of mysticism. I don’t want to give anything away, because the mystery is too juicy to spoil, but I would definitely advise you to stay on your mental toes while reading this one!

I loved the setting of Bad Münstereifel (what a great name!) – Both because it made for a rich exploration of another culture and the German folklore added a European gothic feel to the book, and because my family is of German origin. So reading the various German phrases, like Oma & Opa, and the reference to St. Nicholas (as opposed to ‘Santa Claus’) which my family bandy about at family dinner, was quite familiar to me and lovely to read.

I really loved this book. It’s a bit of a mish-mash of genre; suspense, crime-thriller, YA with a healthy dose of German fable. It makes for a wonderfully robust read – and once the mystery gets underway you will not be able to put this book down!


Helen Grant’s second stand-alone novel is ‘The Glass Demon’. It was released in the UK on May 6th and I’ve heard nothing but buzz about it. Will definitely be adding this one to my TBR list!


  1. I've been on the fence about this book, but after reading your review I think i'll give it a try if I come across it.

  2. oooh this book looks awesome! =)

    great review!

  3. this book is truly compelling, and very dramatic.


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