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Author: Elisabeth Herrmann

Published: 24 March 2016
Reviewed: 9 September 2016

5 out of 5 stars
Copy supplied by Bonnier Publishing in return for an honest review

 

Description:

An unforgettable heroine. An unforgiveable past.

For fans of Child 44, The Lives of Others, and Stasi Child, The Cleaner is a gripping thriller that will chill and intrigue as the sins of the past catch up with the secrets of the present.

Pools of blood, scenes of carnage, signs of agonising death – who deals with the aftermath of violence once the bodies have been taken away?

Judith Kepler has seen it all. She is a crime scene specialist. She turns crime scenes back into habitable spaces. She is a cleaner.

It is at the home of a woman who has been brutally murdered that she is suddenly confronted with her own past. The murder victim knew Judith’s secret: as a child Judith was sent to an orphanage under mysterious circumstances – parentage unknown. And the East German secret police were always there, in the background. . . .

When Judith begins to ask questions, she becomes the target of some powerful enemies.

My Thoughts & Review:

The Cleaner is a Cold War thriller rife with espionage, deceit and intrigue.

The opening scene in Yuri Gagarin Children’s Home in East Germany in 1985 really reinforces the mentality of period – a young girl named Christel Sonnenberg is found wandering in the corridors and is escorted back to her bed.  However the member of staff is advised she is mistaken, this is not Christel Sonnenberg but Judith Kepler, and afraid of any fallout, the member of staff agrees (during the Cold War in East Germany it was easier and safer to not argue with what you were told), and henceforth this girl is known as Judith.

Some years later and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we encounter ‘Judith Kepler’ again, but now she is an adult and working  as a cleaner – making homes habitable again after death has occurred.  Her latest assignment is to clean an apartment following the murder of the previous occupier, but whilst she is there she finds a letter with her name on it, and details of her time at the Children’s Home.   This leads her to an intelligence expert for help to find answers but leads to some very dangerous developments.

Intelligently written, Herrmann pulls together strands of a fascinating story with factual nuances of Stasi Germany to create an atmospheric and immersive read.
The character of Judith/Christel is a great creation, here we have someone who is realistic, flawed yet strong, and the job that she does ties in so well with her nature, quiet and methodical.

The pace of the story is fast, the suspense really builds and keeps the reader hooked throughout.

This is without a doubt one of the cleverest thrillers I’ve read,  the political tightrope of the period makes for a very intriguing layer to the story.  The idea of job that Judith does is very intriguing and not one that I had ever really given much thought to, but definitely adds another pull of intrigue to this book.  The translation to English has lost nothing of the original brilliance.

You can buy a copy of The Cleaner here.

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