The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant is definitely going to be compared to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I haven't read Sweetness myself, so I don't know if comparisons are justified, but for me, this book was a bit of a disappointment.
Pia is a ten-year-old famed in her small German hometown for being the girl whose grandmother exploded in a freak accident involving hair spray and a match. She has no friends besides one called StinkStefan, her parents are always arguing, and she does not like any of her cousins. When girls from her town begin disappearing, with no clues as to their whereabouts, Pia decides to help find them with the help of her friend Stefan, through the aid of their elderly neighbor Herr Schiller.
I think this story had a great premise, but it just didn't work well for me. I really wish the author had focused her story on the scary German folktales that weaved their way into the story, instead of making those a sideshow to the main (lackluster) mystery event. The folktales were excellent reading, and my favorite part of the story. Unfortunately, they had very little to do with the overall story.
Pia's character wasn't one I warmed to until very late in the game, and I didn't like her parents much, either. In fact, I didn't much care for any of the characters in the book. They could use a bit more fleshing out. I also didn't like the random smattering of German phrases in this book. Perhaps they were put in to make the setting more authentic, but I found it annoying to have to flip to the glossary in the back of the book so often.
I also thought the mystery was a little lame. I figured out whodunit pretty early on (not something I am particularly good at, with mysteries), but I wish there had been more explanation of what happened. We didn't really get any reasoning behind the murders- why some children disappeared while other more obvious choices did not. And we also didn't get any sort of reference on how Pia's friendship with StinkStefan turns out, which also upset me.
While I really enjoyed the folk tales present in this book, and the quaint German town setting full of aging busybodies and cruel schoolchildren, the plot itself didn't hold my interest and I was disappointed by the mystery. I think Grant is a good writer, but I hope her next book focuses more on the folklore and less on the mystery.