The Package, by Sebastian Fitzek

Eight stars

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:

Woman in Shadow, by Carrie Stuart Parks

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Carrie Stuart Parks, and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I am always eager when I see Carrie Stuart Parks has written another novel, having found myself fully enthralled with her Gwen Marcey series a number of years ago. While Parks has moved into writing standalone thrillers, she can still pack a punch and offers up some great storytelling in this piece. When a woman who is saddled with much PTSD from a horrific work event arrives in rural Idaho, all she wants is some rest and well-deserved relaxation. Darby Graham could not have known that this ranch had so many issues and someone causing massive amount of uproar. As things begin to happen, Darby is thrust into the middle of trying to solve them and determine if there is a killer targeting the ranch or someone on its grounds specially. Gritty and mysterious, Parks does well to lure the reader in with this story.

When she arrives in Idaho, all Darby Graham wants is some time to recharge her batteries and enjoy the wilderness. However, things begin with a bang (or more literally, a shake) and develop from there. In an area close to Yellowstone National Park, there are countless mini earthquakes that cause quite a stir. Graham encounters this, as well as two potential canine companions to join her as she makes her way up to Mule Shoe. Graham slowly tries to get herself acclimated, though she carries much baggage of her own.

Having arrived at the ranch from Clan Firinn, a program for law enforcement officers who have suffered severe PTSD, Graham hopes to put all her worries behind her. However, that is not always the case, as small things occur that trigger flashbacks and horrible fugue states. When these occurrences begin to pile up, Graham has no choice but to work with the locals to try uncovering what’s been going on.

A forensic linguist by training, Graham finds clues in language and how it is presented. She is able to use some notes from the past sent to ward others away and finds herself able to piece together a very loose profile. That may not help her now, as people are dying and destruction is rampant, though it does not deter Graham from trying her best.

Riddled with memories of the past that haunt her, Darby Graham will have to put all that behind her if she is to help find a killer before she becomes a victim herself. Much if riding on this, the least of which a chance to slay her own demons once and for all. A well-paced story that adds action and suspense throughout, proving that Parks has not lost her way with words.

I struggle after reading a series and the author turns to standalone novels. When I get into the groove of things, I can only see myself wanting to continue on the journey of a protagonist I know well, with dangling threads and new plot ideas formulated in the closing chapters of a book. However, Carrie Stuart Parks turned to writing novels that float on their own, equally as impactful to the attentive reader. These are still filled with the element of mystery and suspense, as well as utilising some unique forensic research, which is usually able to extinguish my longing for a series continuation.

Darby Graham does well in her role as protagonist, offering the reader a fair bit with which it work. Having suffered a great deal and still haunted with vast amounts of PTSD, Graham has tried to right herself and find a new path. Graham’s attempted escape to rural Idaho may not be the peace and quiet she needs, but it does showcase some of her wonderful forensic skills and keeps the reader guessing about how she will overcome it all. There is great growth and backstory construction in the piece, even if it is meant to go no further than the end of this novel.

Those Parks matches up with her protagonist also play key roles in keeping the story moving. While many flavour a particular aspect of the narrative, some drop clues throughout to help add depth to the story and provide insights into where things are going for the overall reading experience. Parks has a way of developing the rural authority figure effectively, which is not lost in this novel. Some of the characters help propel Darby Graham to a new level, while others are strictly there to impede her personal and professional progress throughout.

Things began somewhat slowly for me in this read. I needed some time to find myself interested in what was going on. Parks uses a slow reveal to really captivate the reader’s attention, but when it is found, the narrative picks up and finds its momentum. The various perspectives offered throughout provide the reader with an exciting tale, with decent backstory and mysterious twists. The plot advances in due time and keeps the reader guessing until all is revealed by the end. Short chapters push things along, though the information in them is essential, forcing the reader to play close attention. One of Parks’ great assets in her writing is presenting a typical criminal case through the lens of a less-known forensic profession. As with her Gwen Marcey series, the reader learns much through the eyes of Darby Graham, whose life as a forensic linguist offers some insights that may have been missed otherwise. While not my favourite piece by Carries Stuart Parks, I enjoyed it and would encourage readers to look into her other work, particularly that of the aforementioned Gwen Marcey.

Kudos, Madam Parks, on another solid piece of writing. You never cease to impress me with the new forensic angles presented in your writing.

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: