In the middle of a freezing German winter, the chair of mathematics at a venerable university is murdered in an apparently motiveless crime. Inspector Falco Baumgarten of the Leipzig Polizeidirektion finds himself embroiled in a mystery that refuses to be unravelled, until a chance meeting with pattern recognition expert Professor Antje Bach reveals a series of connections that will lead to an extraordinary discovery.
The quiet debut of Lise Sonntag’s first novel Significance belies the uniqueness and quality of this offering.
Inspector Falco Baumgarten is a world weary soul with little left to invest his energies in other than seeking the truth for those found murdered in Leipzig. Baumgarten has an appealing philosophical side, which Sonntag develops adding depth to this novel.
He was still feeling a little soiled from conducting the interview with Frau Neumann. Peering at someone who has been stripped naked by grief was a draining experience. It made one acutely aware of the amount of energy we all spend day after day, keeping our defences up; holding out that screen upon which we project the persona we would like people to experience. Keeping the equivocal, swampy reality hidden away.
His meeting with the socially awkward Professor Antje Bach, begins one of the most endearing fictional crime solving partnerships I have come across in some time.
“Like you said,” he continued, “there’s a pattern somewhere. I need your help to find that pattern. The problem is, officially I can’t tell you anything about the cases. So I need to know if I can trust you.”
Using her forefinger, Bach began to spin a pen round and round in circles on the desk in front of her. After a minute or so, Baumgarten wasn’t sure if she had even heard him. Later he would consider this tendency to carefully consider her decisions to be one of her best character traits, but right now it was a bit annoying. He bit his lip and waited.
The almost naive and youthful chemistry that is awakened in this pair is perfectly balanced with their patient and sincere interactions with others and deep respect for the historical significance of the mystery they find themselves seeking answers to.
Significance by Lise Sonntag is aptly titled because it is so much more than a crime novel – it is about the life’s work of individuals over history and their capacity to advance society.
The intelligent plotting of this mystery steeped in academic history captured my imagination. The mathematical tie-ins particularly appealed to me given my time spent in a university mathematics department many years ago, but such experience is not necessary to engage with the story. All mathematical concepts introduced are explained in a very accessible and interesting manner.
The historic city of Leipzig in the former East Germany is just as much of a lead character in Significance as Baumgarten and Bach. Sonntag’s descriptions of the evolution of architecture in Leipzig influenced by different rulers over history evoked a sense of grandeur and endurance, and added something special to the mystery.
Lise Sonntag should be commended for her research into and obvious passion for the subject matter and never cutting corners or resorting to cliche in her writing. Her attention to detail in plotting, understated yet compelling character development and classy conclusion set this novel Significance apart from the many more commercialised titles in this genre.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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Genre: Crime-Detective, Mystery, Thriller, Literature
Author Information: Significance is the first novel from Lise Sonntag. Lise lives in Leipzig Germany.
- A guest post by Lise Sonntag titled ‘Stories Within Stories’ where she discusses what inspired her to write Significance
* Receiving this title free did not impact my ability to express my honest opinions in the review above.