Review: The Girl Who Wasn’t There

wpid-wp-1440494469282.jpgISBN: 978 0 349 14046 9

Published by Abacus, an imprint of Little, Brown


There are some books that grip from the first page, some that intrigue and keep you reading. Of course there are the others that deserve the Dorothy Parker quote “This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly, it should be thrown with great force” – but in my experience, such books are thankfully rare.

It is a strange thing that, for the average reader, almost all crime writers are Anglo-Saxon. Few would be able to name too many authors of decent thrillers from, say, Germany or Italy. They are there, but British and American publishers dominate and they tend to look first for fresh English-speaking talent. Personally I think it’s also partly because French, Dutch and other nations value literature more highly, and that means they look for more solid fare. We Ango-Saxons are much more frivolous!

This book was a rather curious read, I think. I saw it in Waterstone’s at Exeter (@WaterstonesExRg if you’re on Twitter) and Clare had an easy sale to me. I read it quickly, hugely enjoyed it, and when I put it down, I was a bit bemused. The structure was rather odd.

The first two thirds, I would think, are an in-depth study of a character. This was interesting, but at all times I had the impression that the story was being told to me. It was as though the writer was deliberately putting himself just a bit aside. This could have been intentional. In fact, I think it must have been because the last third of the book was much more comfortable. Perhaps it is because the author, Ferdinand von Schirach, is a top defence lawyer in Germany, and he looks on his books as cases which he must depict for a jury or judge. Who am I to tell?

In any case, the first sections of the book go through the life of Sebastian von Eschburg, his early life, his father’s suicide, his mother’s breakdown and family’s collapse, and then the move into photography. Sebastian is a curious character, single-minded, and not particularly gregarious or attractive. However, he forms a relationship with a young woman who admires his work, and his international career takes off.

That’s the first third.

Then we have the investigation. He is accused of murder, but it’s a strange murder when no body is recovered.

There are usually rules in a crime story. My first agent always told me that the murder must occur in the first sixty pages, there should be roughly five suspects, each should have a strong motive and so on. This book does not fit the standard crime format.

So, here’s where I say, reader, I bought this book, it’s not a gift or a review copy, so I can be as rude as I like. However, readers of my pages here will know that I am not inclined to crucify any author or novel just because I dislike it. Other people may well like it. So this time, I am in the happy position of recommending a book even though I think it may drive dedicated crime readers potty! I am not over the moon with the writing style for the first sections. It did feel like reading evidence produced in court. However, as soon as the investigator – von Eschburg’s defence lawyer, Konrad Biegler – appeared, the book took off. Suddenly the language was looser, and much more natural. It was a joy to read about this large, overworked and stressed lawyer. It read pretty much like a Rumpole with fewer gags, but it was excellent. He travels through to von Eschburg’s past life to discover the truth in this case, and the result was a very satisfying read.

Would I recommend it? Difficult one. I did like it in the end, but this book is clunky at the beginning. It doesn’t fit easily into the crime model (not that that is a bad thing). However I think that the last pages bring the book (and the characters) to life. So yes, I do give it a high rating. However, I need to try his other books as well, I think, to get a better feel for his writing.

If you’ve read it too, what do you think? If you haven’t, go to your local bookshop and buy a copy to try it.

9 Responses to “Review: The Girl Who Wasn’t There”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Michael’s review of The Girl Who Wasn’t There


  2. noelleg44 says:

    Many thanks for a thoughtful and honest review!


  3. hmm does not appeal, I hate clunky writing and wouldn’t plough through to get to the good bit. Apart from that I’m half way through this book called The Last Templar and the bloke wot has wrote it has done another 31 to follow!! I may be gone some time. ;)


  4. Hi great reading your bloog

    Liked by 1 person

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