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Russell, Craig - 'The Ghosts of Altona'
Hardback: 432 pages (June 2015) Publisher: Quercus ISBN: 1780874928

THE GHOSTS OF ALTONA begins with the shooting of the protagonist Jan Fabel, head of Hamburg's Murder Commission, during the raid of a suspected child killer. An unusual opening for this Gothic thriller but fast-forward two years and we find out that Fabel is alive, physically recovered yet struggling with the aftermath of his Near Death Experience (NDE). He's unable to express how this has changed him and claims he has put the past to rest yet feels the need to reassure others to accept the current state of affairs.

Fabel also is haunted by an old, unresolved case which literally comes back to the surface under a car park in Altona, part of Hamburg. A body of an ethereally beautiful, intelligent and cruel Monika Krone is found, fifteen years after she went missing after a party. Monika was the centre of a group of students obsessed with all things Gothic, and her unsettling beauty had absolutely magnetic qualities. At the time Fabel helped to convict Jochen Hübner, an unrepentant monstrous serial rapist, for her murder. Hübner, known as Frankenstein, claimed that he would never kill his victims, just allow them to relive horrors he had subjected them to. As the news of the discovery of Monika's body spread, Hübner manages to escape from prison and disappears off the face of the earth - and new murders are committed. This time the men who had been involved with Monika turn up dead. The chilling and terrifying ghosts come to life... The killer employs Gothic 'methods' and symbolism to stylise the killings in a manner based on the writings by Edgar Allan Poe, an American author of macabre and Gothic stories.

This is the first time I've met Jan Fabel and I wish it could have been several books earlier. I can't compare post-NDE Fabel to the one appearing previously. However, I am in awe of this complex character, caring, determined and just, and so vulnerably human, reassessing his own life and its place in society. As a history graduate his path through the police ranks has been different and has brought a human dimension to the job. Reopening the old case to find answers about Monika's death and to catch the current killer seems an obvious thing to do, and is a personal journey for Jan Fabel.

THE GHOSTS OF ALTONA is not another disturbing but compelling thriller detailing a search for a serial killer. It's not just a modern stylish Gothic story set in the twenty-first century. It also tells of a history of Altona in Hamburg which saw geographical borders moving between Denmark and Germany, and riots in the past. And it becomes an exploration of a various points of view on NDEs. This richly layered novel bringing together various intertwined themes invites the reader to explore them further outside of the book.

Ewa Sherman, England
July 2015

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 10/07/2015 15:46