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Head Count - Ingrid Noll

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Author: Ingrid Noll / Genre: Crime / Thriller

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      05.08.2007 14:48
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      two young women's murderous ways

      “German thrillers stink.” This from an editor of a German publishing house. Indeed, the thriller/mystery genre is an Anglo thing, it was born in England and is still dominated by British and American authors, in fact so much so that if you enter a bookshop in Germany, you don’t know where you are, the heaps of bestsellers near the entrance are invariably thrillers by British or American authors, often the titles aren’t even translated.

      This doesn’t mean that there are no German thrillers at all, but they rarely acquire national and hardly ever international fame. To have one’s German thrillers translated into English is thus like being knighted, Ingrid Noll can really be proud! I want to introduce you to this author, she writes so-called cosy thrillers but not in the Miss Marple way, not at all. In traditional thrillers a murder is committed and the whole story revolves around the question, “Who dun it?”

      In Head Count, Maya, a twenty-something German woman living in Florence, tells us the story of her life and the murders she and her friends have committed. It’s obvious that she doesn’t speak to us from a prison cell so we know they’ve got away with it. Where’s the thrill then? Surely such a story can only be boring!? Let’s have a look.

      You better be good and above all fair to your children so that they don’t develop murderous tendencies. Maya was her father’s darling, his princess, he called her Infanta after a famous picture, when he leaves the family without an explanation, the girl is convinced that he really left her to suffer from her mother’s and her brother Carlo’s cruelty. The ‘Infanta’ soon turns into an ‘Elephanta’ and the bullying at home continues at school.

      The only bright spot is Cora, a new classmate, the two girls become friends at once and go through thick and thin and also murders. The first victim is Carlo, Maya kills him with a gas pistol when he tries to rape Cora; no case is opened, though, because it’s seen as self-defence.

      Before her final exam at school May becomes pregnant and marries Jonathan, a student, who’s as potent as a lover as he’s boring as a husband. So she takes her son and moves in with Cora, who’s angled herself a stinking rich sugar daddy, two years older than her father, whose main asset is a wonderful villa in Florence, the Italian maid Emily included. She marries him but before a week has passed she can’t stand him any more, when Cora’s parents in Germany learn at last about the marriage, she’s already a widow. And Maya’s father who’s resurfaced into her life is dying . . .

      How come? It must be mentioned that Emilia, the maid, knows German quite well, she has listened to all of Maya’s and Cora’s intimate secrets for a long time without showing that she understands. Does she blackmail them? No, she has ‘adopted’ the two young women as her daughters and Maya’s son Bela as her grandson and is ready to fight with teeth and claws (a German expression) for her ersatz family. When Cora brings a hitchhiker from New Zealand into the house who threatens to destroy the balance they’ve enjoyed up to then, she knows what to do.

      The allure of Ingrid Noll’s stories is that her characters just do what other people - we? - only dare think about and then quickly store away ashamed of our evil thoughts. A relative pesters you? Away with him or her! You wouldn’t know what to do with a corpse? Ah, but there are so many ways . . .

      Ingrid Noll’s characters have become what they are because they’ve suffered, but we meet them when they’ve decided not to be victims any longer, they’re dyed-in-the-wool egotists and the word ‘conscience’ does not belong to their vocabulary, they‘re not immoral but amoral.

      What kind of author may create characters we get to like through her sympathetic description but who indulge in perfidious murders when they feel their peace of mind is disturbed by a fellow human being? I met Ingrid Noll in my hometown on 8th March, the International Women’s Day, when she read from her latest novel. Imagine a mousy old age pensioner you wouldn’t look at twice because of her inconspicuousness. She studied German and History of Art but started writing only in her fifties after raising her children and helping her doctor husband in his practice - now he helps her check her ‘murders’ so that they’re airtight from a medical point of view.

      She’s noticed that the older a woman gets, the more she fades into the background and isn’t taken seriously any more by the young ‘uns, a wonderful position to watch people and their pecularities. Where does she get her plots from? “Why,” she says, “open any newspaper and you’ll find plots galore, the difference is that the people you read about have been found out but mine aren’t.”

      Ingrid Noll lives in a small town near Heidelberg in the south of Germany, the area features in all her books. Head Count also takes us to a small village in the Black Forest and some culture spots in Florence, I can vouch that her descriptions are true to life. It’s not necessary to know the places to enjoy Noll’s writing but it certainly adds an extra pleasure if you do. The book is easy to read, I don’t know if this is due to the fact that it is a translation or if the style is also simple in the original (I read it in English only), it‘s not lol funny but smile humorous and tongue in cheek. [Who would have thought this of a German author? :-)]

      Maya’s description of the typical tourists, for example, is entertaining to read, it goes without saying that she cheats on them if she’s at her wits end when it comes to facts and figures, and she steals what she can get her hands on. She doesn’t kill them, though, which I find reassuring should I ever make her acquaintance as a tourist guide, heehee.

      Other translated titles:
      The Pharmacist
      Hell Hath no Fury

      Ingrid Noll has written more than ten thrillers which have all become bestsellers, you would have to learn German to read the others! Especially the one called Selige Witwen (Blessed Widows) which follows Maya’s and Cora’s lives, they fall out with each other in the end and start fighting and as we know they know no mercy!

      Head Count (222 pages) seems to be out of print, you may find it in your library or on Amazon which (today) offers 16 used copies from 1p onwards.

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    • Product Details

      Maya's only memory is being at odds with her mother and brother. Her father seemed to love her but he disappeared. Maya's life is embattled until she meets Cora. The two form a friendship founded on a conviction that they are somehow separate from society and do not have to abide by its rules.