Alphabet in crime fiction: Juli Zeh

ZVariously entitled Dark Matter, The Theory of Everything, and Free Fall, Juli Zeh's novel is my contribution to the last letter in the half-year-long exercise that has been the crime-fiction alphabet. I read the book a couple of weeks ago as it is on the list of titles eligible for the International Dagger award this year.

Karen of Euro Crime recently wrote a post containing the UK and US covers and publisher blurbs of this novel, which are very different, and asked readers which they prefer. I prefer neither, not only because I find it intrinsically hard to agree with anything, but mainly because I felt neither blurb helps the book. The UK blurb gives away the first big plot development, never a good idea although ubiquitous in the industry. It is as if these blurb-writers think nobody will read or buy the book unless they give away something crucial, but in fact all it does to me is to induce tedium until I get to a point in the book that continues from where the blurb left off. The US blurb, on the other hand, makes the book sound intellectually challenging or even pretentious, which it isn't. Rather than quoting from either blurb here, therefore, I will provide the first paragraph of my review of the book, which is submitted to Euro Crime and will be out in full fairly soon: 

DARK MATTER is a detective story with a physics theme. The
basic story is an apparently simple one. A happy family consisting of
Sebastian, a professor of physics at Freiburg University; Maike, his impossibly
beautiful wife who helps to run an art gallery; and their ten-year old son
Liam, temporarily separate during the summer holidays – Maike on a cycling
tour, Liam to scout camp, and Sebastian to spend time in solitude working on
his latest theories about the nature of time. 
While Sebastian is driving Liam to the camp, however, a terrible event
occurs. Before he can properly react, Sebastian is sucked into a vortex of
terror and criminal activity, and the contented existence of the family is

The edition of the book I read is translated from the German superbly by Christine Lo.

The author studied international law and creative writing, worked with the United Nations in New York, and now lives in Brandenberg. She has won many awards for her writing.

Dark Matter was published in the UK in March, by Harvill Secker. Here are links to some reviews of the book (most of which contain more information than I would have wanted to know before I read it):

DMatter  The Times

Simon Clarke at Amazon

Crime Time

The Book Bag

The Guardian

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate (though you have only until the end of this week, and the only letter left is Z!)

7 thoughts on “Alphabet in crime fiction: Juli Zeh

  1. Maxine – Thanks for this “taste” of this book. I have to agree completely with you about what’s written in many blurbs. Of course, publishers want to increase sales, so they often manipulate blurbs to do just that, but as you point out, that can sometimes backfire. Thanks for pointing that out.

  2. It does feel like time for a war on blurb writers (heck we have wars on everything else so why not). I try to avoid them these days (except when I’m looking for nonsensical comparisons). Does one of the three titles ‘fit’ more than the others now that you’ve read the book? I’m always a little frustrated by books which have different names (having twice been caught buying the same book under a different name).

  3. The two physics-related titles are best – Theory of Everything or Dark Matter. Free Fall does not make much sense in terms of the book. Dark Matter is good because it is a play on crime and on physics; theory of everything is good because it is what one of the characters is working on – but it does not have that “crime” or “dark” meaning.
    I think my favourite is dark matter but having said that, nobody in the book is working on dark matter, they just are involved in dark matter(s).
    Never read a blurb is a good motto!

  4. I strongly agree with Margot’s above comment, whenever I’m in a bookstore and make a quick purchase, it’s always on the blurb + cover, and usually backfires. Stick to reviewed books, and you’re reading time will be better.

  5. Okay, I just read Zeh’s book and I did enjoy the philosophical issues, questions and differences between the two physicists. I do feel like a bit of a blockhead as I’m not sure I figured out everything. I do know what happened with the murder and who is responsible. I’m not exactly sure why the culprit did what he did–the underlying culprit. I did like the two detectives. I’m not sure what happened in the end, the last 15 pages. Maybe I need the Wikipedia plot summary and explanation. Because it involves spoilers, I don’t go further.
    I’ll loan it to a friend so she can explain the ending to me.

  6. However, I am undaunted and will plow through Petrona’s favorites among the books on the Dagger list, and others on that list. Several intrigue me.

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