Five by Ursula Archer: Book Review

Blurb: A woman’s corpse is discovered in a meadow. A strange combination of letters and numbers has been tattooed on the soles of her feet. Detective inspector Beatrice Kaspary from the local murder squad quickly identifies the digits as map coordinates. These lead to a series of gruesome discoveries as she and her colleague Florin Wenninger embark on a bloody trail – a modern-day scavenger hunt using GPS navigation devices to locate hidden caches. The “owner” of these unofficial, unpublished geocaches is a highly calculating and elusive fiend who leaves his victims’ body-parts sealed in plastic bags, complete with riddles that culminate in a five-stage plot. Kaspary herself becomes an unwilling pawn in the perpetrator’s game of cat and mouse as she risks all to uncover the motives behind the murderer’s actions. Five is definitely not a book for the faint-hearted, but it delivers great suspense, unexpected plot twists, and multi-dimensional characters.

Rating: I set this aside, gladly leaving it behind to let what I’d read settle for the day.

Ursula Archer has written a murder mystery, based around the very intriguing activity of geocaching.

First, a little about geocaching – it is in effect a modern-day treasure hunt during which people with a GPS or their mobile phones receive coordinates and go looking for geocaches – treasure boxes. However, in Five, what sounds like it could be fun and exciting becomes horrific when a killer sends cops on a treasure hunt for the parts of his victims.

Along with the using geocaching, I have to admit I quite enjoyed that the book was set in Austria, making this a book of firsts for me – geocaching and an unconventional setting in the crime genre, or maybe I’m not reading the right authors? Archer herself lives in Vienna, and began her writing career as a children’s author of all things, a label she has very firmly shaken off with this book.

She doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the gruesome nature of the crimes, but all the credit to her for creating a highly original crime thriller around a very unusual recreational activity.

The case begins when a woman’s body is discovered with coordinates tattooed on her feet, and from that Det. Beatrice Kaspary and her colleague Florin begin the search for the killer. Readers, like Bea and Florin, learn about geocaching as the case progresses, and more bodies are found. Bea’s proven herself in her career, but is hampered in this case by a somewhat sexist superior, who wants results immediately (as most superiors do in books like these). He’s an uncomfortable character, one who is exasperating and Florin can see this as he tries to deflect attention and pressure from Bea as often as he can.

Bea herself is a bit of an enigma to me – or was for much of the book. She’s good at her job; she’s got the track record to prove it. But, we find her in the middle of an ugly divorce, and a husband who is in essence a jerk, and prone to making abusive phone calls to her. He’s all smiles with the kids though. Their kids clearly love him, and she’s left in the role of peacemaker – always having to be peaceful in regards to him when they’re around. Bea is juggling being a mother and a cop, and while the professional part of her life makes sense, and works it’s her personal life I wasn’t sure about.

Achim, her husband, has much more of a presence in this book than I expected. He is the quintessential ex-husband, hitting all the right notes to make you hate him, but once we discover why Bea is so driven to be a cop, to find this killer, and how that led her to Achim – and I think knowing these details much sooner in the book would have re-framed how I looked at their relationship and in fact Bea and Achim.

Overall, this is an intriguing mystery, hampered a little by the desire to bring Bea’s personal life into the story.

 

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