Always a fan of the well-paced psychological thriller, I was pleased to discover the work of Sebastian Fitzek. With stories that contort the brain in numerous ways, Fitzek keeps the reader guessing throughout by layering ideas and twists into the main story. This piece was no exception, mixing psychological deception with abuse and trauma. Emma suffered a great deal of psychological trauma as a child, vowing to help others when she got older. After attending a conference, she is attacked and raped in her hotel room, left to feel that she was a victim of a ruthless serial killer who shaved the heads of his victims. It’s only afterwards that Emma begins to piece things together, though she has self-isolated within her home. When a package is delivered to her, addressed to the neighbour, things begin to unravel significantly and Emma is forced to face all her fears anew. A challenging and chilling read that will leave the reader tied in knots as they attempt to piece it all together.
Emma suffered significantly at the hands of her abusive father when she was a child. She was also haunted by a ghost that terrified her repeatedly, forcing the little girl to have fits of panic on a regular basis. The tension in the house worked to push the little one to the brink and she vowed not to let it happen with any regularity.
As an adult, Dr. Emma Stein is a respected psychiatrist whose methods are on display at a local conference. Returning to her hotel room after a lecture, Emma is attacked and raped by a man she cannot see, but who leaves her brutalised and shaves her head, much like the ruthless serial killer, The Hairdresser, who has been killing women around town. But why keep her alive when the others were killed?
Having locked herself away in the confines of her home, Emma relives the attack and tries to make sense of it. Her husband, Phillipp, tries to be supportive, but knows that his wife’s vivid imagination can sometimes concoct things that are not truly there.
After a knock at the door by a delivery man leaves Emma with a handful of mail, she’s asked to hold onto a package that belongs to a neighbour, while a note will be left at the proper address. Emma is baffled and curious about the contents of the package, which only fuels her active imagination.
When a series of events begin to push Emma towards the brink, she decides not only to see what’s inside the package, but also learn more about the neighbour. A stealthy trip over to his residence reveals much to Emma and she has to wonder if she’s made a major discovery that the police will want to explore further. However, that same curiosity may have put Emma in a web out of which she cannot escape.
Saddled with what she knows and trying to make the right choice, Emma takes matters into her own hands and ends up doing something she will soon regret. This might explain why, in a flash-forward narrative, she is sitting in custody with her lawyer, trying to justify it all. However, even that has an element of tension that cannot be explained away. A chilling tale that does not lend itself to easy explanations throughout.
There are times when a good story is made better by a few unexpected twists, This seems to be the approach Sebastian Fitzek takes in his writing, as each of his books that I have taken the time to i enjoy left me rattled and wanting more. His style transcends the written word and buries itself into the core of the reader, something that is not lost in translation from the original German. There is no doubt that Fitzek is a master at his art and will likely keep me up well into the night when I find myself enjoying another of his books soon.
Emma Stein was a great protagonist, though she is weighed down with so much trauma and psychological angst that I cannot see how she is able to function. A victim at the hands of many, Emma is simply trying to keep herself afloat, which proves more difficult with each passing day. Seeking truth in a world that wants to sedate her, Emma strives not to let others tell her what is real, while questioning it on a regularly basis.
The handful of other characters that Fitzek uses in this piece prove to be highly useful to the overall experience as well, keeping the reader wondering until the final reveal, which is in itself a twisted event. Many complement the Emma storyline well, though these are characters to have their lows perspectives and can sometimes come across as highly troubling. The author uses them well and keeps the reader on their toes as the truth comes out, in extremely convoluted ways.
The reading experience was formidable, using the essence of the psychological thriller effectively and keeping the reader wondering what awaits them. A strong narrative has the reader transported through this story quickly, with mid-length chapters helping to propel things forward when needed. There is a real sense of darkness in the writing and the plot, with characters who know how to add twists at just the right times. Fitzek has done well in the past and this is another novel that demonstrates his strong abilities, which leaves me wanting more when time permits.
Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for a stunning piece that left me tied in knots. This is the kind of story that entertains and disturbs in equal measure.
Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: