SIMONE Buchholz is telling the story of how Glasgow came to be at the heart of her latest crime thriller River Clyde. It all began almost two decades ago when the German author arrived in Scotland to visit friends.

A keen football fan, she was taken to watch a game at Celtic Park. This was 2005 and a young striker caught her eye. His name was Nicky Riley, a player on the bench for the home side. His cheeky grin and freckles made her smile.

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

“The fun thing is all my protagonists are named after football players,” she says. “The good ones are named after the players from FC St Pauli, where I live. The bad ones usually play or used to play for Hamburger SV.

“I was in Glasgow for a trip and went to the Celtic stadium. That was at the time when I started to think 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 Nicky Riley never started for Celtic that day, but in her mind’s eye she can see him flying around the pitch.

Does the footballer, who after leaving Celtic in 2010 went on to play for Dundee, Peterhead and now Linlithgow Rose, know that he inspired this character? “No, no, no,” she says, with a bashful laugh.

The Herald: A 2005 visit to Celtic Park in Glasgow inspired German author Simone Buchholz. Picture: Nick PontyA 2005 visit to Celtic Park in Glasgow inspired German author Simone Buchholz. Picture: Nick Ponty

Buchholz, 50, has since penned a series of bestselling books centred on Chastity Riley. She thinks back fondly to that Glasgow visit and believes that serendipity played a hand.

“Years later, it turned out that it was definitely right to name her after a football player from Celtic,” she says, referencing the Glaswegian link that proves pivotal in her 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 a book tour for her novel Mexikoring (published in English as Mexico Street) when she got into an illuminating conversation about character development in relation to Chastity Riley.

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

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A few weeks later, Buchholz was attending the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival in Stirling and got chatting with a podcaster. “She said to me, ‘Funny that her name is Riley because my name is Riley too, which is an Irish-Scottish name, and I am from Glasgow.’”

Reflecting afterwards, Buchholz knew what came next for her character. “Suddenly I realised, ‘I have to repair her.’ 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 is 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 that’s home and maybe that is Scotland. I started to do some research and travelled to Glasgow. Very quickly I felt, yes, that is where she belonged.

“For me, it stirred some kind of magic. I still can’t say why exactly. I was walking around and seeing things through her eyes. She felt at home there; she felt safe and like she belonged.”

The Herald: German crime author Simone Buchholz. Picture: Gerald von ForisGerman crime author Simone Buchholz. Picture: Gerald von Foris

River Clyde follows Chastity Riley as she escapes the grief and tragedy of her life in Hamburg and travels to Glasgow, summoned to the birthplace of her great-great-grandfather 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 the way in which she deftly captures the beating heart of Glasgow. This isn’t the picture postcard version, but rather an unblinkered portrait. She appreciates and understands the nuances of the city’s geography and socioeconomic landscape.

River Clyde feels very much like an alternative love letter to Glasgow. Much of the story plays out in the east end and you can tell that Chastity Riley – and Buchholz for that matter – felt very much at home there as the character discovers her Scottish roots.

“When I came to Glasgow and Chastity arrived in my mind, I knew she would love the gritty part,” says Buchholz. “I live in St Pauli and she lives in St Pauli, which is the harbour district. It is gritty – it is not the rich and posh part of Hamburg.

“For me, the west end and Kelvingrove are wonderful – I loved to have dinner there – but, for her, I knew it had to be the gritty part.”

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Buchholz began researching how many Scots emigrated during the late 19th century, seeking a better life across the Atlantic. “Her great-great-grandad emigrated to the USA,” she says, explaining how the character’s father hailed 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 Glasgow’s east end and learning about the history. “I knew I had to go there,” she says. “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 told me: ‘Let’s go there, that is her part of the city.’ “I was so lucky because my friends took me to the Hielan Jessie at the Gallowgate,” she adds, a smile in her voice. “The Hielan Jessie is the best place. I really hope it survived the pandemic.”

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

The Herald: The Doublet in Glasgow. Picture: Kirsty AndersonThe Doublet in Glasgow. Picture: Kirsty Anderson

Did Buchholz have fun researching those parts of the book? “Of course,” she says, laughing. “My friends helped me a lot. That was lovely. The Glaswegians 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 Glasgow welcome knocked her socks off. “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 bunch of friends.

“It is totally great for an author doing research. The people are so friendly, open, nice and welcoming. That was striking to me.”

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It is no accident that the novel takes its name from Glasgow’s river, with the Clyde also a sentient being – waiting and watching – within its pages.

Buchholz felt an immediate and strong connection. “I live not that far away from our river in Hamburg – the Elbe – and I go there often,” she says. “I just love to be there and have a beer and look at the river and think about everything.

“When I came to Glasgow to do some research for the book, I discovered that the Clyde and our river in Hamburg, the Elbe, are kind of similar from a geographical point because they cut the city into two halves. There is the northern part and the southern part.

The Herald: View of the River Clyde in Glasgow, looking east. Picture: Colin MearnsView of the River Clyde in Glasgow, looking east. Picture: Colin Mearns (Image: Archive)

“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 alive and people love to sit by the side. There are a lot of restaurants and bars – the river is important for city life. And the River Clyde is the total opposite. It seemed to me like it is just lying there, dividing the city into two halves.

“It felt kind of sad. Maybe it depends a bit on the weather, but our weather is not so much better in Hamburg. To me, he [the Clyde] seems to be lonely and emotional and dark, just lying around.”

When Buchholz finished the first draft of River Clyde in 2020, she felt something was missing, “an additional voice, something that brings it all together”. Sitting by the Elbe, enjoying a beer with a musician friend, she began mulling over 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 there is an additional sound that is missing?’

“He said: ‘I would do something like dark strings. Maybe look at the river, something like a river …’ I thought: ‘Maybe River Clyde is not only the title? Maybe it is a character. Maybe this is the voice I need to bring it all together?’ I tried and it felt good.”

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