Review – The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant


Set in a small German town in 1999, this novel could be  enjoyed by both teens and adults.  Katharina is the first young girl to disappear in broad daylight on a chilly day in February.  The atmosphere of unease is heightened when more girls vanish mysteriously and some of the townsfolk are keen to point the finger of blame at one eccentric individual.

The story is narrated by Pia, a bright ten year old who finds herself alienated at school when her grandmother dies in rather unconventional circumstances -

My life would have been so different had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded.  And had I not been born in Bad Munstereifel.  If we had lived in the city – well I’m not saying the event would have gone unnoticed, but the fuss would probably only have lasted a week before public interest moved elsewhere.

Poor Pia finds herself shunned by former friends and her only remaining ally is another pariah, StinkStefan.  The two pair up and focus their attentions on discovering who is responsible for the abductions.  At first they suspect faery or occult involvement but then they toe the party line and zoom in on the town gossips’ preferred target, the unconventional Herr Duster.

Unusually, for a children’s book, the writing is quite adult in style, very lyrical at times.  There is an air of menace throughout the novel with frequent references to folklore in the style of the grim Brothers Grim rather than dainty Disney.  Perhaps this fits in with the age of the narrator, Pia at 19 recalling the events of 9 years before and she reinterprets invents through a more adult viewpoint.  The author has a great sense of place, vividly recreating the small town German setting complete with festivals and traditions.  I do wish I’d been aware of the glossary of German words and phrases at the back of the book before I reached the end as it would have saved a lot of guesswork on my part!  There is a lovely section where Pia spends time in England with her maternal grandmother and experiences the difficulties of being a stranger in a strange land.  Indeed there are quite a lot of adult themes which would be beyond the average 12 year old’s understanding, so yes, it’s a book for more sophisticated teens and adults.

I really enjoyed this, Helen Grant’s debut novel – it surprised me with its many layers and richness of language and Pia and StinkStefan are a memorable duo.  I’m looking forward to her next novel The Glass Demon.

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  1. Stephanie says:

    This sounds really good–I haven’t heard of it at all. I hate it when I finish a book only to find there is a glossary at the end! It has happened to me more than once.

  2. Jenny says:

    Yours is the second review I’ve read of this today, and I am totally sold! This book sounds fabulous.

  3. admin says:

    I know, Stephanie, so annoying – who wants to look at the end of the book before they begin?!

  4. admin says:

    Jenny, I’ve had it on TBR pile since last Christmas (was a present) – about time I got round to it – I have a lot of YA books TBR, sometimes I am just in the right mood for them – usually after I’ve read a few Booker nominees! ;-)

  5. SazzyMCH says:

    Hhmm, how did you know I’ve been spending a fair bit of internet time recalling my days in Germany??? Finding my old street on Google maps – that sort of thing. I love the country but haven’t come across many books that use Germany but not the war (I’m sure they’re out there!) so this looks like another one for the wishlist!

  6. admin says:

    Mystic Meg at your service, Sarah! :-)

  7. Iris says:

    This sounds like a beautiful story, but then I’m always so bad with stories about disappearing children, they are just so nightmarish to me because it could be so close to reality.

  8. admin says:

    Iris, since it’s a YA book (still suitable for older readers too!) it doesn’t have the gory details of modern thrillers, something which turns me off completely. It’s more a coming of age story.

  9. I have seen another review of this book recently and really like the sound of it. Thanks for the review :)

  10. admin says:

    You’re very welcome Boof, I have had a YA interlude recently, it’s my comfort zone whenever I’ve been exhausted by literary novels!

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