Time Heals No Wounds is an interesting import that brings a German sensibility to European crime fiction.
Hannes Niehaus balances his lives as a competitive rower and a neophyte police detective in a small German seaside city. He’s assigned to work with Fritz Janssen, a grizzled vet with an eye on retirement. The duo delve into the mysterious death of a woman whose body washed up on an isolated beach. As the investigation builds, it draws in a mute artist who creates grotesque canvases; a German drug company trying to shed past scandals involving both a deadly medication and Nazi ties; an anti-Nazi activist; a kidnapped woman held in a dark room; a greedy real estate agent; and a shady art dealer. The action climaxes with a confrontation on a storm-wracked cliff overlooking the North Sea.
German author Hendrik Falkenberg does a decent job with his debut novel. If the plot sometimes feels like it might have one or two elements too many, Falkenberg mostly makes the pieces come together in a logical way. There’s a solid build to the investigation and Falkenberg essays some decent action sequences. He even finds ways to inject drama into scenes involving online research, not an inherently dynamic activity. The choice of a pharmaceutical company as a villainous element isn’t the most original choice, but ultimately makes sense in the context of Falkenberg’s plot. The climax is well done and the writer skillfully executes a crucial final act twist that packs a real punch.
Hannes and Fritz emerge as interesting, compelling leads. Falkenberg pretty quickly jettisons the hoarier aspects of the “grizzled vet/green newbie” set-up and develops a believable bond between the duo as they work their way through the investigation. If other characters don’t quite emerge as distinctively, the focus on Hannes and Fritz makes that not that much of an issue.
Readers used to the faster tempo of American procedurals might lose patience at points with the more deliberate pace of Time Heals No Wounds. But for those who have read a lot of European crime fiction, the slow build won’t be unusual. The frequent detours into Hannes’ personal life aren’t bad, but can be a momentum drag. The almost casual use of past rapes as a plot point might turn off some readers.
In spite of the dark nature of the material, Time Heals No Wounds somehow isn’t quite as heavy as other European mysteries can be. While Fritz telegraphs world weariness, Hannes is a more optimistic presence than one often sees in European crime novels. It’s a nice choice and works to involve the reader in this world a little more smoothly.
For fans reading this in English, the translation is serviceable, but not always graceful. The dialogue translation especially falls into the trap of over-fidelity to the original. It makes too much of an effort to preserve the syntax and idiom of the original German, which doesn’t make for a smooth transposition to English. The narrative sections fare better, but the stiffness of some of the dialogue can be terribly awkward at times. That’s not the author’s fault and can mostly be taken in stride, but a reader will notice it.
For fans of European crime fiction, Time Heals No Wounds is a promising series launch that’s worth checking out.