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.

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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.

Comments

  1. I too read this recently and had that same feeling of contrived plot, still, I did enjoy it in its own way.
    I only realised it had been made into an Audible drama after I'd finished it so I am intrigued to hear how it sounds when performed.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I only heard about the Audible drama after I'd read the book too. I would guess it works well as a drama as it's so fast-paced. Some really high profile actors in the cast, too.

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