Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Child by Sebastian Fitzek

Originally published in 2008 as Das Kind, The Child by the hugely successful German author Sebastian Fitzek is now available in an English translation - it can already be downloaded for Kindle, and is out in paperback on 13 August. My copy was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Image result for the child sebastian fitzek
The Child begins when defence lawyer Robert Stern is introduced to Simon Sachs, a terminally-ill 10-year-old who is firmly convinced that he was a serial killer in a past life. This could easily be dismissed, were it not for the fact that Simon can tell Stern exactly where and how the bodies of his victims are buried - and when Stern investigates, Simon's claims proves to be uncannily accurate.

To complicate matters, when Stern becomes involved in Simon's case, he is immediately targeted by anonymous threats from an unidentifiable individual who claims he has information on Stern's own son, a baby boy who died soon after birth. What follows is a fast-paced, increasingly crazy high-concept thriller in which Stern, Simon, Simon's nurse Carina and Stern's ex-client Andy Borchert take part in a cat-and-mouse chase across Berlin.

It's fair to say that this chase takes us to some pretty dark places: an encounter with a group of paedophiles is particularly grim, and some of the details of the death of Stern's son Felix are also rather harrowing. For the most part, though, it's a high-octane affair featuring guns, sinister conspiracies, a race against time and a mystery criminal mastermind who wouldn't be out of place in a James Bond film. The plot is, frankly, quite daft: don't pick this one up looking for realism.

Although much of The Child is wildly implausible, it does have some interesting characters, including Stern himself and, most notably, Simon, whom Fitzek manages to portray as a remarkably good-natured, likeable child without quite tipping the portrayal over into sentimentality. Stern's irascible father is also fun, and Carina, an old flame of Stern's, is more than just a love interest.

With its frequent cliffhangers, high-concept premise and contrived plot, The Child reminded me somewhat of another translated thriller, After The Crash by French writer Michel Bussi. I did, however, feel that The Child had a little more heart to it, a little more warmth, despite its darker, grittier atmosphere. There are occasional moments of humour in The Child, and I think it perhaps also benefits from a better translation.

Overall, if you cast aside all misgivings of the 'Yeah, but that would NEVER happen...' kind and suspend your disbelief, The Child is a tense, action-packed read that would certainly keep you engrossed on the beach or a long journey.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

After I finished Sarah Hilary's debut novel Someone Else's Skin, I moved straight on to No Other Darkness, the second novel in the DI Marnie Rome series. It's already available for Kindle and is due out in paperback on 30 July.

Image result for no other darkness paperbackImage result for no other darkness paperbackLike Someone Else's Skin, No Other Darkness is a dark, creepy crime novel - a blend of police procedural and psychological thriller. It begins with the discovery of an underground bunker, hidden below the garden of an ordinary suburban home, which contains the long-dead bodies of two small boys. Their remains, now little more than bones, don't fit the profile of any children reported missing. Who are they? Who imprisoned them? And why?
The investigation into the boys' deaths leads Marnie Rome down various sinister paths, and finds that the case has oblique connections to her own past. A journalist covering the story is an old flame from Marnie's teenage years whose age suggests that their relationship may not have been entirely appropriate, and a troubled 14-year-old foster child reminds Marnie of her own foster brother Stephen, who murdered her parents at around the same age. Noah Jake, Marnie's sergeant, also has a difficult sibling in his life, in the form of his wayward younger brother Sol. Throughout the story, we find out more about the adults in all these children's lives and what damage might have been done by them - although Stephen remains very much an ongoing, unsolved mystery, and readers will, I'm sure, have many of their own theories.

There are some moments of nail-biting tension, as well as vividly-realised characters whose deepest secrets and complex pasts are gradually unravelled: this is as much a whydunnit as a whodunnit. No Other Darkness more than lives up to the promise of its predecessor; in fact I'd say it even exceeds it. Looking forward to the next one already!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary

Someone Else’s Skin, the debut novel of Sarah Hilary, was named as the Theakston’s Old Peculier crime novel of the year last week, on the same day I started reading it. It’s a gritty police procedural featuring DI Marnie Rome, a detective haunted by the murder of her parents by her teenage foster brother some years previously.

Image result for someone else's skinSomeone Else’s Skin takes domestic violence, in all its forms, as a starting point for the mystery that unfolds after a man is stabbed at a women’s refuge. Leo Proctor, the husband of one of the abused women living at the supposed safe house, is stabbed in front of several witnesses by his terrified wife with a knife he has concealed in a bunch of flowers. It seems clear that Hope, whose body bears signs of years of physical and sexual violence, has acted in self-defence and out of sheer terror – but why does she then disappear from hospital after the attack in the company of her apparently stronger, more assured friend Simone? What secrets are the women hiding?

As you’d expect, given the subject matter, Someone Else’s Skin is a dark read – there are some disturbing moments that would not be out of place in a horror novel, although it’s a credit to Sarah Hilary that I found none of the content to be gratuitous. The London setting – grey, rainy,  grubby – lends the book a noirish, slightly threatening atmosphere and during the course of the investigation we meet some deeply unpleasant but chillingly plausible characters. The plot itself is full of clever twists and there is no shortage of pace and tension, but one of the things I particularly enjoyed about Someone Else’s Skin is that the mystery comes as much from the psychology of the various characters as it does from the circumstances of the crime plot; Marnie Rome and her team spend more time picking apart suspects’ motives and personalities than they do sifting through physical evidence.

While the standalone plot of Someone Else’s Skin is satisfyingly resolved with no loose ends, a few questions about Marnie, and her parents’ deaths, remain unanswered. However, a second Marnie Rome book has already been published, so I assume Marnie’s intriguing past will be further explored over the course of the series and I suspect this will prove the best way to do it justice. I also suspect that most readers would be delighted to see more of Marnie’s detective sergeant, Noah Jake, and victim support officer Ed Belloc, both of whom are well-drawn characters in their own right.

Someone Else’s Skin is an assured, perceptive, cleverly plotted and frequently outright terrifying debut, with a strong, smart lead in Marnie Rome. If you enjoy the darker realms of contemporary crime fiction, this one is definitely for you.

I’m now off to read the next in the Marnie Rome series, the recently-published No Other Darkness.