Helen Grant – The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

On the day Katharina Linden disappears, Pia is the last person to see her alive. Terror is spreading through the town. How could a ten-year-old-girl vanish in a place where everybody knows everybody else?

Pia is determined to find out what happened to Katharina.

But then the next girl disappears…

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is Helen Grant’s debut novel, which, ironically, I read last after The Glass Demon and Wish Me Dead. So for me it was a return to Bad Münstereifel and some characters I’d met before, such as Frau Kessel and Frau Nett and familiar locations. Reading the book also once more underlined how much I enjoy Grant’s writing. It only took me about twenty-one pages to fall in love with this book’s protagonist, Pia.

Pia is a lovely narrator, cleverly set up to narrate the story several years after what happened in the book. This gives the author the possibility to combine the ten-year-old perspective on the happenings in the village with the added observations of the older Pia. I found this approach a refreshing one, as it shows the complete innocence and fearlessness ten-year-olds possess and at the same time give a good reason for Pia to be able to narrate her story in a grown-up manner.

I loved the combination of Pia and Stefan, or StinkStefan as Pia sometimes refers to him. While I can understand Pia’s resentment of being stuck with the most unpopular boy in her class, at the same time I wanted to shake her and tell her to be grateful to have found such a steadfast friend in Stefan. He never even asks her about her Oma Kristel’s accident, which is commendable. Oma Kristel’s fatal accident is both tragic and hilarious and it’s easy to see why it holds such fascination for both the children and the adults of the town. But Stefan never mentions it, he just accepts Pia for who she is. At the same time, I really felt for Stefan, who doesn’t seem to have a very happy home life and seems to be able to do as he pleases, even once the girls start disappearing. This is contrasted by Pia’s mum’s reaction to the situation, which is the desire to move back home to Britain immediately. I can completely understand Pia’s English mum wanting to go back to Britain to keep her daughter safe, but at the same time I understand her dad’s reluctance to leave his home town.

The frantic atmosphere the girls’ disappearance causes in this small town is palpable and well-drawn. While Pia is more fascinated by what happened to Katharina and the others, we feel the adults’ anxiety in the way they keep the children at home, need them to check in whenever they are out and by the excessive security measures during large town events, such as St. Martin. In addition to the large scale drama of the disappearances there is the more domestic drama of Pia’s parents’ marriage breaking up. While this might not be totally due to the disappearances and the consequent tensions, as mum seems to not have been that happy in the small town of Bad Münstereifel, it does reinforce the impact of such events on a small community.

What was fun, was spotting little details that return in Wish Me Dead. When Frau Kessel appeared I groaned; she’s a totally despicable old biddy who thrives on gossip and is super malicious in spreading rumours. One such rumour mentioned concerns Magdalena Nett, which connected directly to Wish Me Dead‘s narrator, Steffi Nett. She also has opinions on who exactly is the culprit in this book and isn’t afraid to tell anyone who’ll listen. This in turn leads to somewhat of a lynch mob mentality in the townspeople, who besiege the home of the person she accuses. This re-enforces the dangers of gossip, especially in small towns, a point that is also made in Wish me Dead.

The mystery in The Vanishing of Katharina Linden was well done – at some point I had my suspicions as to the true culprit but didn’t want to believe it – but at the same time was almost secondary in the narrative to the emotional consequences of the events of the book. The book is a strong debut, but having read Grant’s following novels you can see how she’s grown in her confidence as writer. Still this is a wonderful story, which makes turning pages for far longer than you planned very, very easy. If you like mystery and YA, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is a lovely book to read. Meanwhile, I’m impatiently looking forward to Grant’s next book, Silent Saturday, which will be released next year.

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