Sons and Brothers by Kim Hays Review

Sons and Brothers, the second crime novel by Kim Hays, is a chilling police thriller with characters whose lives are wrapped in a web of long kept secrets that ends in murder. Read my full review.

Sons and Brothers Synopsis

A Polizei Bern Novel

Walking his dog along Bern’s Aare river on an icy November night, a surgeon in his seventies is hit in the face and thrown into the river to drown. When his bruised corpse is found, his watch is missing. A mugging gone wrong? The more Swiss police detective Giuliana Linder and her assistant Renzo Donatelli learn about Johann Karl Gurtner, the more convinced they are that his death was not random.

Talking to Gurtner’s family raises as many questions as it answers, but one thing becomes clear: the surgeon’s relationship with his middle son, Markus, was grim. Tracking others who might have had reason to hate Gurtner, Giuliana and Renzo find themselves once again dealing with their attraction to one another and their ambivalence about having an affair.

Behind their investigation, another story has been unfolding. During the year leading up to Gurtner’s death, his son Markus became friends with a former classmate of his father’s from the village where the two men grew up. Unlike the privileged young Gurtner, Jakob Amsler was forcibly removed from his mother at nine and contracted to live and work on a village farm. From Jakob, Markus learns that his father’s early life contains some very odd secrets—secrets that Giuliana and Renzo are now trying to uncover.

Seventh Street Books (2023)

Kim Hays | Pub Date Apr 18, 2023 | ISBN 9781645060581 | 362 pages

Book Review

Sons and Brothers by Kim Hays is a chilling police thriller set in Bern (Switzerland) and in a small (fictional) Emmental farming village called Heidmatt. After receiving an emergency call from an unidentified man, the Bern cantonal police pull the body of Johann Karl Gurtner, a seventy-two-year-old heart surgeon, from the Aare River in downtown Bern on a late November evening. Gurtner had suffered a blow to the face and head before going into the chilling water. Now it’s up to Detectives Giuliana Linder and Renzo Donatelli and their team to dig into the background of the victim to find out who had a motive to kill him. 

Quickly the police zero in on the dead man’s thirty-five-year-old son, Markus, as their suspect. Now a professional photographer, Markus Gurtner, a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, has served time in juvenile prison for his part in a past violent assault, still has pent-up anger issues boiling just beneath the surface, and had never got along with his father. Is Markus the lone killer, or were others involved? These are the primary questions to which Linder and her team must find answers. To complicate matters, Linder must work with a sleazy prosecutor, Toni Rossel, whom she dislikes strongly but once had a fling with in her mid-twenties. And Toni seems bent on using the opportunity to continue his longstanding sexual harassment of Linder and even threatens to ruin her professional reputation among her colleagues in the police department by telling all about their one-night tryst. Also, the underlying sexual tension between Linder and Donatelli continues in this second book in the series. 

As much as I enjoyed Pesticide, the strong debut in the series, I liked Sons and Brothers even more. Since the major characters in the first book return, we get to know them more deeply. Kim Hays’ no-nonsense, precise writing style translates just as well as a police procedural as a detective mystery novel. 

The complexity of the case and the web of long kept secrets at the heart of this story is noteworthy. Hays flips back and forth between the present to periods in the recent past and even as far back as sixty years before the death of Johann Karl Gurtner. So, the reader gains a full understanding of the feelings of enmity among the primary characters and suspense fostered by how long into the past these feelings of rancor extend into a sleepy rural setting with its small-town attitudes and mindset. 

As with the series debut, Hays proves effective with characterization. Her conscientious depiction of the life like histories and flaws of a number of people involved in the story and investigation is admirable. There is no lack in the depth and continuity of investment in any of the characters, even those who play only minor roles. The real strength of the book lies in the author’s judicious unwrapping of the puzzle and toying with her audience’s moral compass and inner sleuth that maintained my engagement throughout. I wasn’t sure about the identity of the murderer or murderers until the revelation. 

Kim Hays’ Sons and Brothers features an intriguing murder case well worth sinking your teeth into, and is, I suspect, one of the more authentic depictions of real-world Swiss policing available. Recommended for fans of both detective mysteries and police procedurals. 

I received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher, Seventh Street Books, via the publicist for review purposes. Sons and Brothers goes on sale on April 18, 2023.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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