River Clyde: Simone Buchholz on how Glasgow inspired crime thriller

SIMONE Buchholz tells how Glasgow became the heart of her latest crime thriller River Clyde. It all started almost two decades ago when the German author arrived in Scotland to visit friends.

Passionate about football, she was taken to see a game at Celtic Park. It was 2005 and a young striker caught his eye. His name was Nicky Riley, a player on the bench for the local team. His cheeky smile and freckles made her smile.

At this time, Hamburg-based Buchholz was planning a new series of books. She had yet to name the central character – a fearless state attorney who is half-German, half-American, with Scottish roots – and inspiration struck as she sat in the stands that day- the.

“What’s funny is that all of my protagonists are named after football players,” she says. “The vouchers are named after players from FC St Pauli, where I live. Bad guys usually play or used to play for Hamburger SV.

“I was in Glasgow on a trip and went to the Celtic stadium. It was around the time that I started thinking about this protagonist. I thought, ‘Maybe her name is Riley?’ »

And, with that, the bold and memorable Chastity Riley was born. The curious thing, says Buchholz, is that Nicky Riley never started for Celtic that day, but in her mind she can see him flying around the pitch.

Does the footballer, who after leaving Celtic in 2010 played for Dundee, Peterhead and now Linlithgow Rose, know that he inspired this character? “No, no, no,” she said with a shy laugh.

A visit to Glasgow’s Celtic Park in 2005 inspired German author Simone Buchholz. Photo: Nick Ponty

Buchholz, 50, has since written a string of bestselling books centered on Chastity Riley. She looks back fondly on that visit to Glasgow and thinks serendipity played a part.

“Years later, it turned out to be absolutely right to name him after a Celtic football player,” she says, referring to the Glasgow link that proves essential in his new novel, River Clyde, which is published this week.

The award-winning author, well known in her native Germany as a political and cultural activist, was on tour for her novel Mexikoring (published in English as Mexico Street) when she struck up an enlightening conversation about the development of the character related to Chastity Riley.

“My wonderful colleague said, ‘Oh my God, you hurt her all the time. Don’t you think she has to be fixed once? You have to give her some kind of healing to make her happy…” We spent this long evening together and talked about the problem.”

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A few weeks later, Buchholz was attending the Bloody Scotland detective writing festival in Stirling and chatting with a podcaster. “She was like, ‘It’s funny that her name is Riley because my name is also Riley, which is an Irish-Scottish name, and I’m from Glasgow. “”

Thinking about it afterwards, Buchholz knew what was coming next for his character. “Suddenly I realized, ‘I have to fix it.’ I felt for the first time that maybe I should give her a home and a way to learn more about her family and her roots.

“She’s half American; her father died when she was 20 and her mother left her when she was two. Maybe I have to send her somewhere to her house and maybe it’s Scotland. I started researching and traveled to Glasgow. Very quickly, I felt that yes, that was where she belonged.

“For me, it sparked a kind of magic. I still can’t say why exactly. I walked around and saw things through his eyes. She felt at home there; she felt safe and like she belonged.

HeraldScotland: German detective novelist Simone Buchholz.  Photo: Gerald von ForisGerman crime perpetrator Simone Buchholz. Photo: Gerald von Foris

River Clyde follows Chastity Riley as she escapes the heartbreak and tragedy of her life in Hamburg and travels to Glasgow, summoned to her great-great-grandfather’s birthplace by a mysterious letter suggesting she has inherited a house.

There, she meets an important figure who knew her late great-aunt, uncovering dark and painful secrets from her family’s past.

What is striking about Buchholz’s writing is how skillfully it captures the beating heart of Glasgow. This is not the postcard version, but rather a portrait without blinding. She appreciates and understands the nuances of the city’s geography and socio-economic landscape.

River Clyde is very much like an alternative love letter to Glasgow. Much of the story takes place in the east, and you can tell Chastity Riley – and Buchholz for that matter – felt very comfortable there as the character discovers her Scottish roots.

“When I arrived in Glasgow and Chastity popped into my mind, I knew she’d like the gritty part,” says Buchholz. “I live in St Pauli and she lives in St Pauli, which is the harbor area. It’s gritty – it’s not the rich and posh part of Hamburg.

“For me, the West End and Kelvingrove are wonderful – I loved dining there – but, for her, I knew that had to be the gritty part.”

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Buchholz began researching how many Scots emigrated at the end of the 19th century in search of a better life across the Atlantic. “His great-great-grandfather emigrated to the United States,” she says, explaining that the character’s father was from a steel town in North Carolina.

In River Clyde, Chastity Riley traces her family tree to Bluevale Street in Dennistoun. Buchholz spent many hours exploring East Glasgow and learning about the history. “I knew I had to go,” she said. “If I found something, I would find it there.

“I have friends in Glasgow and when I asked them, ‘Where would she go? Where would she like? They were like, ‘Let’s go, this is his part of town.’ “I was so lucky because my friends took me to the Hielan Jessie at Gallowgate,” she adds, a smile in her voice. “The Hielan Jessie is the best place. I really hope he survived the pandemic.

River Clyde contains an impressive pub crawl of Glasgow’s iconic hostels. As well as the Hielan Jessie, Chastity Riley enjoyed a drink at Tennent’s Bar, Stravaigin and The Doublet (and later The Anchor Inn and The Perch Cafe in Garelochhead).

HeraldScotland: The Doublet in Glasgow.  Photo: Kirsty AndersonThe Doublet in Glasgow. Photo: Kirsty Anderson

Did Buchholz have fun researching these parts of the book? “Of course,” she said, laughing. “My friends helped me a lot. It was lovely. The Glasgow people I met were so friendly. It was so easy to do research in Glasgow.

Hamburg, she says, is renowned for being a friendly place, but the welcome from Glasgow has upset her. “You go somewhere, you order a beer and after two seconds you have new friends. They ask: ‘Where are you from?’ You start talking and you have a group of friends.

“It’s absolutely wonderful for an author who does research. The people are very friendly, open, kind and welcoming. It struck me. »

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It is no coincidence that the novel takes its name from the Glasgow River, the Clyde also being a sentient being – waiting and watching – within its pages.

Buchholz felt an immediate and strong connection. “I live not far from our river in Hamburg – the Elbe – and I go there often,” she says. “I love being there, drinking a beer, watching the river and thinking about everything.

“When I came to Glasgow to do research for the book, I discovered that the Clyde and our river in Hamburg, the Elbe, are somewhat similar geographically as they cut the city into two halves. There is the northern part and the southern part.

HeraldScotland: View across the River Clyde in Glasgow looking east.  Photo: Colin MearnsView over the River Clyde in Glasgow looking east. Photo: Colin Mearns

“The big difference – what moved me – is that in Hamburg the river has a very central function and it is one of the biggest ports in Europe.

“The river is very lively and people love to sit by it. There are plenty of restaurants and bars – the river is important for city life. And the River Clyde is just the opposite. It looked to me like he was just lying there, dividing the city into two halves.

“It was a bit sad. Maybe it depends a bit on the weather, but our weather is not so much better in Hamburg. For me it [the Clyde] seems to be lonely and emotional and dark, just hanging out.

When Buchholz finished the first draft of River Clyde in 2020, she felt something was missing, “an extra voice, something that brings it all together.” Sitting on the banks of the Elbe, sipping a beer with a musician friend, she began to think of a solution.

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“I told him about my problem and said, ‘Something is missing. What would you do if you were writing music and you felt an extra sound was missing?

“He said, ‘I’d do something like dark ropes. Maybe look at the river, something like a river…’ I thought, ‘Maybe River Clyde isn’t just the title? Maybe it’s a character. Maybe it’s the voice I need to pull it all together? I tried and it felt good.”

River Clyde by Simone Buchholz is published by Orenda Books on Thursday, priced at £8.99

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