I am so full of meh about this book that I hardly know what to say. It’s a doppelgänger book, and author Petra Hammesfahr has been hailed as the German Patricia Highsmith, so what could go wrong? To be honest, I’m not sure that anything went particularly wrong, but it doesn’t go particularly right either, so I’m left feeling … meh.
In the prologue, a 14-year-old finds a body in a dumpster, a woman whose face has been disfigured and whose hands have been burned. We’re told that the police thought they had solved the crime but that they were wrong.
The first chapter begins four months earlier, when Susanne Lasko has a chance encounter with a more fashionable and elegant version of herself. This woman, Nadia Trenkler, soon enlists Susanne to help her get some time away with her lover. All Susanne will have to do is to pretend to be Nadia so that Nadia’s husband doesn’t suspect. Susanne, who’s been out of work for a while and is having no luck finding a new job, agrees. Given the prologue, you can imagine what the results might be.
I can’t quite put my finger on what about this book didn’t work for me. The plotting is competent, although it dragged at times and got more complex than it needed to be. I wouldn’t say the story was filled with surprises, but I couldn’t consistently predict precisely where it was going, so that’s okay … but only okay. Susanne herself was not an especially interesting protagonist. I sympathized with her situation, but as a person, she was bland. Some of the blandness was probably intentional, to show that this is an ordinary person getting mixed up in a big crazy mess, and she was one of the only characters I cared about at all, but I felt like I was caring for an idea of a person, the way you’d care about any theoretical person who’s down on her luck. There was nothing specific about her to interest me. I did finish the book and never gave much thought to giving up because I was curious as to where the twisty plot was headed, so it did keep me that interested.
For me, the fascination of doppelgängers is in the whole idea of identity and what makes us who we are, and I would have liked more of a focus on that than on the twists and turns of who’s betraying whom and how. Susanne spends a lot of time living another woman’s life, and the psychological implications of that are brushed over. Instead, it’s all about whether and how she’ll slip up. I was hoping for something meatier, but this was mostly a plotty thriller. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what I’d expect from an author hailed as the German Patricia Highsmith.