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Talking Location With…Katharina Bielenberg – The Black Forest

18th January 2018

Katharina Bielenberg#TalkingLocationWith… Katharina Bielenberg, associate publisher, Maclehose Press. Marking publication of Zen and the Art of Murder by Oliver Bottini (translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch)

Tucked into Germany’s southwestern corner, with Switzerland to the south and separated from France by the Rhine, the Black Forest (“der Schwarzwald”) dates back to antiquity and is full of associations. The region is mountainous as well as forested, with castles perched on rocky outcrops, lakes and waterfalls, and attractive towns and villages with half-timbered buildings. The small Gothic city of Freiburg buzzes with university life, and with tourists who come to visit the extraordinary cathedral whose tower holds sixteen bells of all sizes. Long since associated with cuckoo clocks, a certain chocolate/cherry cake and fine smoked hams, the forest is also the imagined setting of the tales of the Brothers Grimm, played out beneath the dark canopy that inspired its name.

As a child I was fascinated by the area. Having fled from the east with her six children my grandmother had settled there, taking up the job of House Mistress and German teacher at a boys’ boarding school in Hinterzarten. In the afternoons the boys would ski on the nearby Feldberg, the highest peak in the area at around 1400 metres. My mother had loved the freedom and adventure of the forest, and I remember my grandmother telling the story of the legend of the stag that escaped a hunter by leaping across the Höllental (“Valley of Hell”), a narrow, winding gorge just outside the village towards Freiburg. The stag is memorialised with a bronze statue on the rock high above the road, known as Hirschsprung (“Stag’s Leap”).

Katharina Bielenberg


As publishers of literature and crime fiction in translation, we have been looking for some years for a German crime series to appeal to English readers. The Black Forest Investigations by Oliver Bottini immediately appealed. His detective Louise Bonì is attached to the Freiburg Kriminalpolizei (“Kripo”), and her work takes her out into the villages and countryside, and occasionally across into France to work with the Colmar police. The forest is a place in which people can hide, or be hidden.

The first in the series opens with a Japanese monk wandering through the snowy landscape. This is of course not a crime, but it unnerves local villagers to the extent that they call in the police to investigate. But the monk will not be helped, and presses on into the woods. Bonì and her team have no choice but to follow. An innocuous operation turns into something much more sinister when they discover that he has been beaten, and before long the force itself comes under fire.

Oliver Bottini is not native to the area, rather a Berliner, but could not resist the potential of this rich and mysterious region and its proximity to France. His detective Louise Bonì’s mother is German living in France, and her father is French, but living in Germany. But this alone does not explain the complexity of his brilliant creation. Troubled, wayward and impetuous, but with an unerring instinct and indefatigable commitment, Bonì is a compelling and rewarding protagonist to accompany through this new series.

Thank you so much to Katharina for sharing her personal insight into this beautiful area of Germany. Zen and the Art of Murder was published on 11.1.18 and A Summer of Murder will be published in August by Maclehose Press, an imprint of Quercus. You can buy the book through the TripFiction database

Oliver is not currently on Social Media but do follow Katharina on Twitter

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