It had been a normal day at work. Monika was locking up, ready to head home, when the man arrived. She didn’t even see his fist until it was far too late.
Bundled into a car, tied up and taken in darkness to an old mill in the thick of a forest, she has been flung into a bunker. It is only now, as time passes and she sees her attacker in the light, that she notices the startling resemblance to someone from her very dark and buried past, someone she never wanted to see again.
Was this a robbery gone wrong? Is he Hans returned for revenge? Is she even the victim at all?
I don’t tend to read a great deal of crime as I do often find it quite a tedious and repetitive genre. For me to pick up a crime book it has to be something different – not your run of the mill mystery. So when I got sent a copy of Bunker written by Andrea Maria Schenkel from Quercus publishers, and seeing that it was only just over 200 pages I thought I’d give it a try. I’d heard great things about Schenkel’s previous book The Murder Farm, and I figured something of this length was bound to be interesting and keep me turning the pages.
But sadly I couldn’t have been more wrong. The real problem I found with this story is the switching of character perspectives. For a few pages we have the perspective of Monika who has been kidnapped and left in a bunker in the depths of the forest, then for the next few pages we have the perspective of the kidnapper. This should have been a great tool, a chance to really show what is in each of their minds. But what you end up getting is basically the same actions repeated by each character. For each character you only get a few pages before it switches again, which doesn’t leave you enough time to really get into either of their thoughts, ultimately creating a complete lack of interest for the reader in either one. For a crime novel you really do need to care about why a character is being kidnapped and what is happening to them in the process.
I didn’t even get a sense of Monika really caring much for why this was happening to her. At one point for example, she tries to escape and then realises she is heading in the wrong direction and starts heading back to the cabin in the woods and ultimately goes back to the kidnapper. Now, knowing as she did, that there was a town beyond this cabin, why would she not traipse the outskirts of the cabin and escape to this town? Monika just seemed so resigned to her fate and it wasn’t realistic to me at all.
Amongst the switching of character perspectives there is also the inclusion of the odd one page scene here and there of someone being picked up by an ambulance and taken to the hospital to be operated on. It’s obvious that this person is either Monika or her kidnapper, but I failed to grasp why these scenes were included at all. It didn’t add anything to the story whatsoever.
The only good thing about the novel is the way it kept me guessing who Monika’s kidnapper was. He had previously broken into her house and stolen a photograph of Monika and her brother, leading Monika and the reader to believe that the kidnapper is somehow connected to her brother. I won’t go into details here but I will say that the ending was extremely disappointed. It cemented once and for all that Monika has accepted her fate and for whatever reason doesn’t want to escape, and the revelation of who the kidnapper was left a lot to be desired. I found myself closing the book and asking myself if I had completely missed the point of it all.
After going online and reading other people’s reviews of this novel, it doesn’t look like I’m alone here. I can appreciate that Schenkel tried to do something a little bit different here but it didn’t quite work out, and for me it just reaffirms everything I dislike about boring crime novels. Crime as a genre should be suspenseful and thrilling, and though there were small glimpses of this in Bunker, there just weren’t enough to hold my interest or make me care about the characters.
What annoys me more than anything is the quote on the back of the book likening it to Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, which just so happens to be one of my favourite novels ever written. This is nothing like The Reader and I wouldn’t advise anyone to pick this up based on that quote. I think if you’re wanting to read anything by Schenkel you should definitely choose The Murder Farm, which I have heard many good things about, and has received much better reviews.
Bunker is out now published by Quercus. Thanks to Quercus for sending me a copy.