Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Until the Debt is Paid by Alexander Hartung Takes Readers to Underworld of Berlin...

Max almost dropped the package from nerves. He hadn't been this worked up since he'd faced off with his final opponent in Diablo. Of course, that was a role-playing video game and this was real life. His hands wet with sweat, he walked over to the building and read the doorbell nameplates. He tried to remember the plan, but his mind was a blank. Then he heard Jan's voice behind him.
"Nice and easy, Max. You can do this."
Jan wore the reflective outfit of a city street cleaner. He stood at the curb with a leaf blower. Once Max got the door open, the sound would bluster in through the entryway and cover up any noise Chandu made breaking in to the apartment.
Max took a deep breath. He had to work his way down the names from top to bottom until someone let him in the door. On the way up, he'd write on the package the name of whoever had buzzed him in and then deliver it to them. The cardboard box was all bound up, with practically an entire roll of packing tape. This would give Max enough time to disappear before the recipient had unpacked the scraps of useless computer parts inside.
Max started with the first bell. A. Regner. He pressed the white button and waited. Nothing happened. He wiped his moist hands on his pants. Then he tried the next bell.
"Let's see if you're home, P. Walter," Max muttered. Two seconds later a woman's voice blared out from the speaker. Startled, Max almost dropped the package.
"Uh, hello there. Max here. I mean the mail, of course. I have a package for you, Frau...Walter."
The door was activated to open. Max nearly whooped with job. Now he had to fix the door so that Chandu got in and the racket from the leaf blower would echo down the corridor. Max Pressed on the door and it clicked open.
"Ha," he blurted in triumph. He quickly wrote Frau Walter's name on the package and got ready to complete his job.
Jan took out his cell and tapped on a Favorites Icon. Zoe answered.
"We're inside," he said. "What's up with Patrick?"
"He's still in the building, though I don't see him," the medical examiner replied. "His car is still here and I'm keeping an eye on the entrance."
"Good. We're going in..."

Until the Debt is Paid

By Alexander Hartung

Murdered. Killed by hammer blows, the last on his forehead. Just before he'd received the fatal blow, he had recognized who was killing him...

Jan Tommen was just waking up after a long weekend. Even though he felt miserable, he still delighted in the fresh smell of Betty's hair. But then the doorbell rang...

Betty's doorbell rang and sent flashes of pain through Jan's skull. He turned to her alarm clock, which read 9:23 a.m. It was before ten on a Saturday morning in Berlin, a city where weekend carousing was normally respected. Who was dragging him out of bed at a time like this?...
"Pat?" asked in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
His fellow officer Patrick Stein stood in the hallway in a dark suit, with two uniformed cops behind him. He was the last person Jan would've expected...Pat had joined Jan's homiide squad a few years back. They worked well enough together, but it was obvious they didn't especially like each other...
"We have a new murder case," Patrick told him. Jan could have sworn he sensed a little schadenfreude showing through Patrick's normally contained expression as he rakes his gaze over Jan's disheveled state...

When one of his own men plus two patrolmen were at the door, Jan was totally confused. Told there had been a murder, he quickly asked why some other officer couldn't have taken it--after all, it was Saturday morning. That's when he was told it was Sunday morning. He learned that the regular team meeting had already been held. He was then told that the only reason they were there was because his car had been seen at the crime scene... Finally, it was sinking in, Jan was a suspect...

When he saw his boss, Klaus Bergman, he immediately barked to head for the Interrogation room. Jan was upset enough that he started asking why he was there. But then had to admit that he had no idea where he had been the previous evening. It was then he was told that George Holock, the judge, was found dead--yes, the  judge that had ruled against him for an assault on duty...Jan had a motive...

They also had blood evidence! But they also verified that he'd been drugged and since his girlfriend was a witness, he was told not to interact with her...

Jan knew he was being framed, but, what did he do Saturday that he could not remember?

What he did know was that he could not wind up behind bars, sitting and waiting for somebody else to clear him!

And that's when I realllllly started to enjoy my reading!

Jan knew he could not use his fellow police officers to help him in any way. In fact, they were out searching for him! He couldn't go home so his first act was to contact a friend...

"Morning," Zoe said. She
tossed her jacket on a chair,
opened a window, and sat
in an armchair. "Black
with a spoonful of sugar,"
she shouted after Chandu.
"Hopefully you remembered
my croissants.
Chandu's response was a
crabby growl.
Chandu just happened to be in the Berlin underworld, but Jan had saved his life in a shootout... The first thing he did was help Jan disappear...providing the getaway car for Jan, having performed a minor assault on the potential arresting officer... Now Chandu did not necessarily look like Mr. T., especially his height, but he soon got the nickname from a crazy blonde... Jan moved in with Chandu... the place looked like a dump from the outside, but, inside, it was a great hideout...

But Chandu didn't think it was a good idea for them to go visit Betty, Jan's girlfriend... He was right. They made it into her building and was moving up the steps to the fourth floor, when they smelled gas and the door to her apartment exploded! Jan was knocked out; Chandu grabbed him and carried him into the basement, prepared to hide until it was clear to head home...

"Most think I'm just this superficial bitch, but I
am a good judge of people...So if you'd killed
that judge, I'd be able to tell. Plus," she continued
between drags. "I don't see you going about it
so stupidly..."
"Hello, Zoe," Jan said,
"I always took you for an
idiot," the woman began
without saying hello, "but I
never thought you'd fuck up
this bad."
...Just tell me what's
happened to Betty. Then you
can run me in."
Zoe's hard face turned a
little softer. "There is only
one reason why I get called.
I'm a medical examiner."
And when they finally decided to leave, that's when she saw him.

She looked annoyed, as if she'd imagined her Monday morning going much differently. She had a flawless face, long blond hair flowing over her shoulders and a posture that suggested a bold self-confidence. Her slim-cut jeans clung to a slender body made even more picture-perfect by stiletto heels. To Jan's eyes, shoes like that tended to look slutty on most women, but on her they actually looked elegant. Next to her lay a white plastic coverall, the type that evidence analysts wear at crime scenes...When the woman saw him she raised her eyebrows in barely perceptible surprise. Then her face returned to its impenetrable mask of cool beauty. She tossed her half-smoked cigarette to the group, stepping on it till extinguished. And Jan knew what had happened to Betty...

Soon Zoe had decided she wanted to spend time on the first
part of a murder case and joined Jan in the investigation, much to the frustration of Chandu who quickly was dubbed Mr. T., and had to put up with her insults and smoking in his smoke-free apartment...

He went over to the front door and
checked the locks for the fourth time.
Horror movies and splatter films had
never bothered him. He'd already
watched Saw eleven times. Really sick
stuff happened in that one--but the
screams of that woman today had been
real, an so had her death. He was afraid
now. Actually afraid... He  had to give
it up. Forget the whole thing, go play
World of Warcraft all night...at some
point the screams in his head would
go away...
And they even convinced their computer hacker to leave his hole and work with them outside!

Having this motley crew working together was helpful to lighten what actually was happening--because another murder occurred, this time the man was killed by having a concrete shake poured down his throat...

By this time, Jan had convinced himself that he was not the killer. He knew where he was and had not again been drugged...but he was still being framed, with his prints being found at the location of the latest murder.

Somewhere along as readers discover what is happening, you might begin to guess who is responsible, but I can guarantee that all of the surprises will not yet have been revealed... 

This story is only kept from being extremely horrifying, by the talent of the author in creating a group of characters that keep you on your toes and working along with them to solve the case, to clear Jan... Heading into the underworld of Berlin is not an easy, short jaunt. Even Chandu had some rough times getting the information they needed... 

But the longer they searched, the more they found out...all...bad... It's not the type of book for me to cry, "I loved it!" and let that say it all. The underworld is full of traffickers who provide exactly what some want... It's full of nasty stuff... So beware!


Alexander Hartung lives in his hometown of Mannheim, Germany, with his wife and young son. He discovered his love of thrillers and historical fiction while studying economics, and published his first novel, The Revenge of the Inquisitor, in the spring of 2010. Until the Debt is Paid follows hard-partying detective Jan Tommen through Berlin, a city the author previously called home.

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