Amok, by Sebastian Fitzek

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Sebastian Fitzek, and Head of Zeus for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Sebastian Fitzek is a master of the sharp psychological thriller, pulling the reader into the middle of something, only to provide a massive twist to discombobulate anyone trying to following along. In this piece, there are layers of intrigue set against a fast-paced plot and a time limited narrative, where a killer has a handful of hostages and is broadcasting live over Berlin’s radio waves. With a criminal psychologist tasked with diffusing things, she has her own issues and finds the added pressure all too much. Explosive and chilling at the same time. Perhaps Fitzek’s best novel to date!

During the morning show on one of Berlin’s most popular radio programmes, a tour for winning listeners goes sideways when one among them decides to take the group hostage. He wants his demands broadcast live, on-air and is willing to use the show’s popular games to get what he wants. Listeners must answer when called and recite a precise phrase or someone will die.

All the while, renowned criminal psychologist, Ira Samin, is preparing to die. She can no longer handle the pain that has befallen her, but wants things done a certain way. When she is called into work as a hostage negotiator, her suicide plan must be temporarily shelved. Ira works to get to know the hostage taker a little better and takes his one demand very seriously, ‘find my fiancée and bring her to me’.

While Ira works to unravel a tense situation, she must also wrestle with some troubling news. It would seem the aforementioned fiancée has died months ago in an automobile accident. However, the hostage-taker will hear none of it. He knows she is alive and demands that she be brought to him. Ira does all she can, only to realise that there is another reason that she must end the hostage taking right away. While Ira works through her own issues, all of Germany is on high alert, awaiting the next call and hoping someone will pick up and say the right thing. If not, things could get much worse, live for all to hear.

While I only recently discovered the magic of Sebastian Fitzek, I cannot get enough of his writing. Twisted and highly entertaining, one can never decipher what twists await the reader as the story progresses. He is surely a master at his craft and has pulled me in with each of the novels I’ve read. There are so many layers to the stories that the reader must pay close attention, or risk being left behind.

Ira Samin is a well-developed and troubled protagonist, perfectly cast for this story. Her personal issues almost drown out the need for professionalism throughout the piece, but this only adds depth to an already intense story. Ira has come to terms with the end of her life, but seems almost put out that she cannot do what she wants most, to die, until she stops a madman from killing others. There is much the reader discovers about Ira as the story progresses, all of which is essential to her own larger narrative.

Fitzek opens the novel with a seemingly odd tangent, only to force the reader to realise that this is the crux of the novel. The narrative pushes forward and offers deceptive twists almost from the outset, keeping the reader guessing what is to come and how it will all play out. Using short chapters, Fitzek teases the reader to ‘read just a little more’ and captures their attention with ease. Chilling and not quite what it all seems, Fitzek delivers yet again, with an English translation that is as smooth as ever, not distrusting the flow whatsoever. I can only hope there are more stories like this to come, as I am ready and eager to see what’s next.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for another winner. Where you get all these ideas is beyond me, but I am not complaining in the least.

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:

Seat 7A, by Sebastian Fitzek

Eight stars

Always one to enjoy a psychological thriller, I am thrilled with the work of Sebastian Fitzek. With stories that confuse the mind and keep the heart pumping, Fitzek has the reader guessing by layering ideas and dramatic twists into a strong narrative. When a man boards a plane, he plans to see his daughter give birth and support her. However, someone has another plan, as he is coerced to ensure the plane goes down, or his daughter dies. Which to choose…? Fitzek at his best and keeps the reader wondering throughout.

Mats Krüger may be a well-known psychologist, but even he has his secrets. Having fled his native Germany after the death of his wife, Krüger has agreed to return to witness the birth of his first grandchild. Living in Argentina now, Krüger will have to fly around the world to arrive on time. This would not be an issue if he weren’t terrified of flying. Krüger’s willing to make the sacrifice, with a few failsafes in place.

After crunching the numbers, Krüger learns the safest seat on the plane and chooses to purchase that one. His desire to protect others has him also obtain seat 7A, statistically the most dangerous one on the flight, thereby ensuring no one else can have it. Everything seems destined to work and he makes his way on board.

While the flight is in the air, Krüger’s daughter, Nele, is kidnapped in Berlin and held by a deranged man with a twisted sense of retribution. Krüger’s made aware of this in-flight and given an ultimatum; crash the plane or Nele dies. As Krüger comes to terms with this, he learns of the complexity of the plan and how there are others on board he knows from his past, including one whose stability could teeter with one wrong move. Krüger will have to decide who matters more, Nele, or a plane full of innocent passengers!

Fitzek pulled me in from the outset and I never looked back, enjoying the fast narrative and plot development. There’s something to be said for his books, which are never quite as they appear. Pushing the protagonist (and the reader) to the brink works well for Fitzek, as he is always able to bring out stunning twists to keep the story alive.

Mats Krüger did well as the protagonist here, working through many of his own issues to help the larger public. There is substantial backstory presented throughout, as well as some harrowing development on board this massive jetliner bound for Germany. Krüger must show this true colours, as well as use his psychological skills to assess the situation, all while trying to save his daughter and unborn grandchild. There are some oddities that arise in the latter portion of the book, but we’ll call that Fitzek being himself and keeping the reader guessing.

Each Fitzek novel I have read has been both similar (psychological to the core) and vastly different. Each handles a significant struggle, but uses different techniques and approaches to tackle solving it, which keeps the reader wondering. All stand-alones, the novels allow the reader to extrapolate about situations and characters effectively. The narrative clips along, adding twists where needed and utilising short chapters to constantly gain momentum. The different characters flavour the story effectively and keep the reader entertained. While there are some odd moments in the latter chapters, I suppose this can all be tired up into the larger drama, for the reader who is willing to keep an open mind. While this novel has not scared me away from flying, I will surely keep an open mind about what might be going on around me during a flight.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for another great piece that kept me guessing.

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:

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:

The Soul-Breaker, by Sebastian Fitzek

Seven stars

After enjoying my first venture into the world of Sebastian Fitzek, I thought that I would return with something equally chilling. Another psychological thriller that appears to have divided the reviewing world quite effectively. A mysterious person kidnaps women and leaves them in a state worse than anyone can imagine, psychologically empty and apparently soulless. Now, in a psychiatric facility, the perpetrator is loose and there are plenty of victims on which to ‘feed’. Souls will be broken, but will anyone be able to put them back together?

A spree of three missing women who turn up in a catatonic state, each with a riddle. They were not killed or raped, or even tortured, but one dies soon after being found. The psychopath who did this appears to have pushed them into a vegetative state, more chilling than anything seen before. It’s all the rage across Germany and yet no one has any answers.

Labelled ‘the Soul-Breaker’ by media outlets, this person lurks in the shadows, awaiting their next victim. After being transported to a psychiatric clinic in a snowstorm, the Soul-Breaker is set to strike again, unbeknownst to those inside. With a handful of patients and staff locked in, it will not only be a battle to protect those who are trapped within, but a race to neutralise this psychopath before more souls are lost and additional damage is wrought.

Add to this, another narrative that includes a group reading the summaries years later, under lose medical watch. Might the Soul-Breaker case be one that will be studied for years by those in the field, or is this just an experiment performed on clueless students?

I needed a little something to bridge my audiobook listening selections and thought this short novel would do just the trick. Using the Audible dramatisation, I figured the story would come to life for me. It did, to a degree, though I appear not to be as riveted as some who got their hands on the actual text. Fitzek does well with the premise, offering something eerie and chilling, though perhaps my listening as I did what I usually do while streaming an audiobook lessened the impact. All that being said, I liked it for the most part and will surely listen to more Fitzek to see if I can continue to enjoy his work.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for another good publication. While I have only the Audible dramatisations to use as reference, you do seem able to really offer a chilling tale with a number of key characters offering varied perspectives.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Passenger 23, by Sebastian Fitzek

Eight stars

In the world of mystery writing, there are many ways in which a body can disappear, as noted in the massive collection of books in the genre. Sebastian Fitzek pushes the reader to think outside the box with this thriller, which takes mystery to a new level and places the story on the high seas. While a handful of passengers who travel by boat go missing every year, they are mere statistics. However, to one man, they mean a great deal, as he lost his wife and son in such a way and then never turned up again. Five years on, a missing girl reappears aboard one of the large ocean liners, holding a relic from the past. Where has she been and how might her disappearance be part of a larger plot? Fitzek stirs up something inside the reader and keeps them guessing throughout.

Martin Schwartz is still trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife and son. Their disappearance aboard a pleasure cruise still haunts him five years later. When no trace could be found of them, it was determined to be a sick sort of murder-suicide, where they went overboard. The phenomena of missing passengers on ships has a name, Passenger 23, attributed to the number of people who go missing in this manner every year. Now, Schwartz has been summoned aboard the Sultan of the Seas, a massive ship travelling from the English Coast over to New York. When he boards, he is greeted by an old woman who is known for her fiction writing. However, she has a story to tell that may change Schwartz’s mind about what happened to his family.

While the ship lumbers out into the open waters, a girl mysteriously reappears, looking haggard and highly confused. What’s more, Anouk Lamar was declared missing while travelling aboard. She’s clutching something highly intriguing, the teddy bear Schwartz’s son had during his journey on the open waters. Schwartz, a trained police psychologist, tries to learn what’s happened to Anouk and discover who may have been holding her captive.

While the results come back that Anouk was raped, it is the crew of the Sultan that want to keep the news under wraps. Schwartz is tasked with trying to figure out what happened to Anouk and who may be responsible, all before they make it to shore. Schwartz is baffled at the cloak and dagger games, but does his best to discover where Anouk and others may have been held, as well as who might be responsible for it all.

Meanwhile, someone has Anouk’s mother captive, another supposed victim of Passenger 23. There is a game of cat and mouse—more like spider and fly—taking place and the elusive captor has a plan. Stopping at nothing to instil fear and push various forms of torture on the broken woman, someone has a plan that may be larger than this single woman. Time is running out and the ship is massive, leaving every door a possible spot to stow someone away, in a sick game that few know is even taking place. A chilling story to say the least and proves that Fitzek is on his game.

It takes a certain type of writer to really get to the heart of a chilling tale and grip the reader throughout. Sebastian Fitzek has proven capable of that with his unique take on the crime thriller, using the open seas as the primary setting. While the story progresses as many others might, it is the compartmentalization of the entire group aboard a ship that gives the story a new sense of urgency and thrill. Fitzek builds the narrative up and keeps the reader guessing what awaits them, as the piece is full of twists and turns that no one could have seen coming.

While Martin Schwartz is the presumed protagonist, he shares the important portions of the story with many others. Schwartz has an interesting backstory, both with the police and the loss of his family. Schwartz works tirelessly when he is aboard the ship to better understand what’s happened and get to the root of the issue. However, things take many a turn and Schwartz ends up learning a great deal about himself as he pieces the mystery together. I have no idea if Fitzek writes standalone only, but Martin Schwartz would be intriguing to see again, allowing his character to develop a little more.

The vast array of supporting characters provides an intriguing flavour to the narrative. From those who work aboard the Sultan of the Seas to the passengers who have their own backstories, the collection of people who grace the pages of the book help to enrich the reading experience. I can see Fitzek developing them throughout, as each plays a key role in the larger story. There is definitely not a skimping when it comes to constructing them to effectively tell the story needed to better understand what is going on.

The book itself flows relatively well, with little when it comes to poor pacing. The fact that it was translated is not obvious, as Fitzek’s writing has surely been placed in the hands of a professional. The story flows with ease and the mystery builds throughout, adding twists at just the right time to keep the reader guessing until the final pages. Strong narrative movement and a plot that is somewhat unique let the book stand out from many in the genre. A mix of chapter lengths help tease the reader into wanting to get ‘just a little more read’ before putting it aside at any one time. I am eager to see some of the other work that Fitzek has penned and hope they were as exciting as this novel.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for intriguing me a great deal. I hope to find some of your other work soon and compare it with this stunning piece of writing.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful book summaries by strong reviewers.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: