Crime mystery set in Berlin (and why you really need a good editor and proof reader)

14th March 2019

The River Runs Red by Ally Rose, crime mystery set in Berlin.

I saw mention of this novel on Twitter. I was recently looking for a book set in Berlin to take to the city and this seemed to fit the bill. It can be so rewarding to pluck a novel out of the ether because that is how we discover new authors!

Crime mystery set in Berlin

Novel at the Dom in Berlin

In The River runs Red there are time shifts at the end of the 20th Century, both before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The storyline explores what it was like to be in the GDR (DDR in German) and thereafter, when East and West had started to come together. A murder in the Waldorf Astoria, Berlin, harks back to the days of the Stasi, whose presence was ubiquitous. Could this be a revenge killing for what happened under the Stasi regime? When more bodies turn up, with ears cut off (a gruesome nod to Stasi involvement, the “listeners” everywhere) Hanne Drais uses her psychologist training and starts to investigate the links and evidence. She is a likeable character, low key and quite thoughtful.

It is also the story of a family torn apart by cruel politics. Two brothers are in the GDR rowing team and they are being groomed to represent their country at the Olympics. This in part involves the use of performance enhancing drugs. Their father defects and the consequences of his escape to the West are devastating for the remaining family members. The author, at the end of the novel, says she is interested in writing crime stories, particularly set in the Cold War era, which of course provides a poignant backdrop. She also feels her characters come to life in this diverse city. From reading the novel one learns a good deal about the era, about escape strategies and more, and she clearly has enjoyed researching this very difficult period.

Berlin as a setting comes through, from Hohenschönhausen, to Charlottenburg and to the Hackesche Höfe. Thus from the TripFiction point of view – literary wanderlust – the book worked quite well. The book is mostly set in the city as well as some scenes set in the surrounding countryside, with a swift sortie to Denmark.

I felt the author needed a little more support in managing the time shifts, as they were not always clear; the characters were a little under-developed. Overall, an interesting concept and a good introduction to the situation in East Germany around the time the Wall fell in November 1989, in essence a decent story!

BUT!

This novel, for many reasons was an unfortunate choice. I write the following with frustration and sadness, something went badly wrong in the production of this book:

There is clearly a good, budding story that was ultimately crushed by the appalling presentation of the book. I purchased this book and thus I can confirm that my copy was not a Proof/Advance Reader Copy (ARC) where mistakes are anticipated. Had it been any other product I would have returned it the seller. There was no indication that the prose had really been edited or proof read, the errors were distracting, and the high level of mistakes utterly spoiled any pleasure in reading the book.

The author is keen on using German, presumably to add authenticity. 70%, at a guess, is inaccurate. There are few Umlauts in evidence, although these are absolutely integral to the German language; where, for example, she has used schon (which means already) she probably intended to use schön (which means nice). Basically plenty of Umlauts were missing (perhaps the printing facilities couldn’t offer them consistently, who knows). Plurals were made up (you can’t simply slap an ‘s’ at the end of a word to make it plural like she does with Soldats, Onkels and Tantes, it’s wrong). Capital letters at the beginning of nouns were on several occasions absent (again, important in German). The Marienkirche (the Church of Maria) in Rostock morphed into the Marienkirsche (the cherry of Maria, a bit of a chuckle there in an otherwise frustrating read…). Further…  “Kruger requested some necessary and reflective Ruhrzeit ..”(which sort of means ‘time in the Ruhr River/Ruhr Area’ rather than downtime (Ruhezeit) which I assume was the intended meaning, a simple r instead of an e totally changed the meaning). Templehof Airport should of course have been Tempelhof and Joachim Gauck was was the special commissioner for the Stasi files (only he was referred to throughout as Guack – that got me totally confused until I worked it out). Erich Mielke was a politician in the GDR government but he was always referred to as Miekle. Auto correct seemed to be having a field day in this narrative….

You may wonder why this matters. To my mind it is just depressingly sloppy and one might as well write foreign gobbledygook. Hohenschonhausen should be Hohenschönhausen and a simple look at Google would have sufficed to find the correct version! It only takes a couple of seconds to check for goodness’ sake. Similarly the author’s expletive of choice was mis-spelled throughout and instead of a single ‘c’ at the end, it required a ‘ck’ (you can probably guess the english equivalent??). This is like writing Mancester instead of Manchester.

It was, however, not only the German usage at issue:

The formatting was poor, copious mistakes were present (…”to speak out against about…” “..who cut of Lindwolf’s ear” “..he was holiday..”), line breaks appeared in the middle of lines, odd punctuation popped up at intervals and no-one in the book’s production team seemed to have a consistent clue about the correct use of apostrophes. There are NO apostrophes in ordinary plural forms.

I am in fact taken aback, quite sad for the author, and angry for myself at the time I spent reading this poorly presented novel; that a book like this got through the editing and proof-reading process and has now been offered for sale in this condition leaves me feeling astounded. I can only wonder if the proof copy was sent to the printing press by mistake (but there again, I have never had a proof copy with SO many mistakes). Where were the checks before it was offered for sale? This is a very unfortunate situation for the author and I really hope she manages to address it when the reprint is due.

The big question is: how did a book of this dismal editing and printing quality get out into the wider world?

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Comments

  1. User: barbara baer

    Posted on: 14/03/2019 at 5:32 pm

    For a good Berlin book just out with Spuyten Duyvil, “Disposable Man” by Michael Levitin set in contemporary Berlin (a lot by night) and E. Europe to Siberia during time when narrator’s relatives were prisoners in the Gulag, into Poland and Lithuania in search for roots. Good feel for places, wonderful wild prose, a touch of Hemingway and Roth.

    Comment

  2. User: Catherine Kullmann

    Posted on: 14/03/2019 at 11:24 am

    I sympathise with your frustration. This sort of thing drives me mad. It is sloppy writing and even sloppier editing although, in fairness, we cannot expect editors and proofreaders to know a multitude of languages. The responsibility for the bad German rests with the author who should have engaged a translator or native speaker to check their use of the language, including spelling.

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    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 14/03/2019 at 5:11 pm

      Yes, I just felt neither the author nor the publisher had gone the full distance to provide a readable book that had been professionally presented for the reader’s entertainment….

      Comment

  3. User: lapsapchung

    Posted on: 14/03/2019 at 9:32 am

    I just couldn’t have read that – a great pity as I’ve been fascinated by recent books about Cold War Germany that I have read. I’d have stormed out at the first apostrophised plural. I might have been a little more forgiving about the poor German – after all, not everyone has a fair command of the language – but if you don’t, why try to use it in places where English words would work perfectly well? As for umlauts, if the author really didn’t know where to find the extended character set, the Germans now have a convention of alternative spellings eg schoen for schön . A good editor or proof reader should have been able to give the author the guidance they needed and make sure the book didn’t get published in that state. Sadly there are too few humans and too many computers involved in publishing these days.

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    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 14/03/2019 at 5:14 pm

      It just seemed poor show all round, tbh. At first I couldn’t actually believe what I was reading (English – terrible punctuation) and then had to re-read to make sure I hadn’t read it incorrectly, which doesn’t make for a good reading experience.

      BTW if you want a good read, post war (before the Cold War, though) The Aftermath is good, set in Hamburg and I have just seen the film which is a good interpretation!

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