Hotel Cartagena, written by bestselling German author Simone Buchholz and astutely translated by Rachel Ward, is the fourth book in Buchholz’s series about public prosecutor Chastity Riley. While it absolutely can be read as a standalone, you’ll want to spend more time with Riley, a wonderful, kick-ass, no-bullshit creation who is immense fun.
The main action takes place over a single night in a swanky restaurant on the top floor of the hotel of the title in Hamburg, where Riley is attending the retirement dinner of a colleague. Twelve gunmen burst in and take everyone hostage, targeting the hotel’s owner for revenge, and the tension gets ratcheted up to almost unbearable levels.
Interspersed with these nerve-shredding passages we get the backstory of Henning, one of the hostage takers, from his teenage years in Hamburg to a life of crime in South America, via some heartbreaking loss and grief, before hardening into a plot for retribution.
Buchholz brilliantly imbues both storylines with real emotional heart as well as buckets of gutsy energy. The narrative pace races along at a rate of knots, but the author doesn’t skimp on exploring her characters’ motivations, building things to an explosive climax that takes your breath away.
Like all the best fiction there are no good guys or bad guys here, just people trying their best to find a way through all the shit that life throws at them, to come out the other side as battered survivors. All of this is delivered with pitch-black humour and a wink at the absurdity of life, making it a completely absorbing and scintillating read.
Hotel Cartagena by Simone Buchholz, translated by Rachel Ward, is out now (Orenda, £8.99)