First Line: Martha Jonas stood in front of her open wardrobe and pressed the Bakelite headphones even more firmly to her ears.
Judith Kepler is a crime scene specialist. She is a master at cleaning the most gruesome crime scenes and turning them back into habitable spaces.
At one such scene, Judith comes face to face with her past. The murder victim knew Judith's secret: as a child she was sent to an orphanage under mysterious circumstances, and to this day she does not know the identity of her parents, but she does know that the East German secret police were always hovering in the background.
In the quest to learn both her true identity and what happened to her parents, Judith begins to ask questions. Now she's the target of some very powerful people...and her life will never be the same.
In a narrative that moves between the present day and East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Elisabeth Herrmann has created a fascinating character. Judith Kepler has many hidden depths, and she continues to surprise readers as the story progresses. In addition, a question is raised that's tangential to the plot; nevertheless, it made me wonder why I'd never thought about it before. What happens when spies and other covert operatives get old?
Despite the questions raised and the strength of Judith's character, the pace of this book is glacial-- which could have been fixed by tightening the story (to the tune of about one hundred pages). If you're in the mood for a multi-faceted main character in an extremely slow-moving story, The Cleaner could very well be the perfect book for you.
The Cleaner by Elisabeth Herrmann
Translated from the German by Bradley Schmidt
Bonnier Zaffre © 2017
Paperback, 400 pages
Source: the publisher