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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Woman of the Dead

Bernhard Aichner

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Woman of the Dead

Title: Woman of the Dead
Author: Bernhard Aichner
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 278 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Woman of the Dead - US
Woman of the Dead - UK
Woman of the Dead - Canada
Woman of the Dead - India
Vengeances - France
Totenfrau - Deutschland
Totenfrau. La signora dei morti - Italia
  • German title: Totenfrau
  • Translated by Anthea Bell

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Our Assessment:

B : formulaic, through and through, and a bit simplistically rushed, but has some style

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 26/6/2015 Barry Forshaw
The Guardian . 23/4/2015 John O'Connell
The Independent . 2/4/2015 Barry Forshaw
Sydney Morning Herald . 20/3/2015 Anna Creer

  From the Reviews:
  • "This strongly written bestseller synthesises elements from Kill Bill and the Lisbeth Salander books to grimly mesmerising effect." - Barry Forshaw, Financial Times

  • "Even Anthea Bellís typically classy translation canít mask the lack of subtlety, but Blum is a great character and when Aichnerís ghost-train plot ends in the only place it can -- a crematorium -- you feel like cheering." - John O'Connell, The Guardian

  • "(T)hose with a delicate disposition should steer clear -- this gruesome Krimi is an ironclad guarantee of sleepless nights." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

  • "Woman of the Dead is a horrifying thriller with strong links to Jeff Lindsay's Dexter, as Blum, too, becomes a relentless, remorseless killer. Aichner's character is so strongly realised that, like Dexter, the reader wills her on to succeed. Woman of the Dead, will surprise as it horrifies." - Anna Creer, Sydney Morning Herald

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Brünhilde Blum was adopted at age three -- trained by her parents "like a pet" to take over the family business; it became: "her prison, her nursery". Given father Blum's outrageous pedagogic methods -- especially punishments which should have scarred her considerably more than they seem to have -- it's amazing that she did decide to follow in their footsteps, but she did. Albeit only, at age twenty-four, after ensuring that her parents couldn't interfere in her life or business any longer -- the novel's opening scene. In a surprising two-birds-with-one-stone coincidence, she manages to find the man of her dreams as a consequence of this same act of staking her independence -- too good to be true, perhaps, but after what she's been through there's little doubt she deserves a change of fortune.
       The story proper begins eight year later. Blum and Mark are now married, and they have two adorable daughters. Mark's father lives with them too, after suffering a stroke two years earlier; he's well enough to help with the kids and another presence they're happy to have in the house.
       Mark is -- like his father was -- a policeman. Blum still runs the family funeral home, having made it very much her own now and enjoying considerable success with it. She has an assistant, Reza, a Bosnian that Mark saved from himself and who has turned his life around with their help. All in all a very happy family. Until, that is, Mark gets run over -- right in front of Blum -- by a hit-and-run driver.
       What looks sort of like an accident soon smells a lot more like murder. Mark was working on something, which he hadn't shared with Blum yet -- and maybe it was what got him killed. Mark's colleague and family friend Massimo tells her it's nothing, but Blum follows up and follows through, picking up the trail and then acting on what she learns.
       It leads her to a conspiracy, five masked men who did unspeakable things, for years. There are few clues left, but piece by piece Blum puts it together, and is led from one of the perpetrators to the next. In her rush and blind fury ... well, whether by accident or then clearly on purpose, the perpetrators do not fare well. Jeff Lindsay's Dexter gets name-checked here (Mark was a fan of the TV series), and Blum finds herself following in his footsteps. A nice touch, of course, is that she is actually in the body-disposing business, so she has a creative touch with that here too.
       Blum veers between meticulous planning and acting out in a blind rage. Confronting some of those she suspects of involvement in the open and without trying to hide her identity should leave rather too much evidence behind when the police start wondering about the prominent men who keep disappearing, but she seems to plan the actual disappearances well enough. Still, she gets in some perilous situations -- a good thing trusted assistant Reza has some experience in this sort of thing from his dark Yugoslavian days ....
       Woman of the Dead is fairly formulaic, down to the crimes, the bad guys -- masked men she can at first only identify as: "the photographer, the priest, the huntsman, the cook, and the clown" --, and the predictable denouement (as the identity of the final conspirator is pretty obvious from pretty early on). But Aichner does show some flair in his presentation. Yes, the plot is full of holes, especially once Blum goes on her killing-spree, but it all zips along so fast there's hardly time to notice. This isn't your usual labored, detail-oriented revenge thriller, with elaborate plans and painstaking investigation followed step by step; it's all wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am, the coffin nailed shut before you know it.
       Aichner also has a decent touch with the writing. There's not that much depth here, but he does surface nice and to the point.
       Aichner doesn't allow for much more than a hint of moral ambiguity here: his villains are all so villainous that they deserve what they get. Blum's way of dealing with things may not be ideal, but Aichner never even really allows for the question of whether what she is doing is morally suspect (beyond the occasional slight guilt trip on her part). In this way -- and most of the others -- she (and her situation) are all a bit too good to be true, making for a novel that is much too clearly all black and white. A few shades of grey would have made for a more powerful work; as is, it doesn't rise much beyond the cartoon-level -- technically proficient, but little more.
       With enough clever and cute ideas to amuse and engage along the way, and a strong-willed woman of action at its heart, Woman of the Dead is a fine, fast, throwaway read -- but it's little more than that.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 January 2016

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Woman of the Dead: Reviews: Bernhard Aichner: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Bernhard Aichner was born in 1972.

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© 2016-2021 the complete review

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