Written by Sebastian Fitzek, translated by Sally-Ann Spencer — Sebastian Fitzek is going to be the next big name in crime fiction coming out of Germany. At least, that’s what the Sphere imprint of Little, Brown is betting on. The publisher has just acquired the English language rights to the two most recent books by this author – the The Nightwalker and The Child. These books won’t be out for another year or so, but what you could do in the meantime is catch up with Therapy.
This book first appeared in English in 2008, and has recently been reprinted by Corvus. In Germany, it won a rather enviable accolade by knocking Dan Brown off the top spot on the bestseller list. Its English translation certainly got good reviews, but it failed to make a spectacular and lasting impression. Perhaps it will do a little better this time around. After all, the author has achieved superstar status in Europe and has been described as the German Stephen King for his twisty and very dark psychological thrillers.
Mental health issues and disappearing children often feature in the author’s work, and Therapy is no exception. Here, 12-year-old Josy disappears from a doctor’s waiting room after suffering for nearly a year from a mysterious, undiagnosed disease. Her father is eminent psychiatrist Viktor Larenz and he goes to pieces after her disappearance, obsessed with tracking down his daughter. In the process, he sees his marriage and his practice collapse. He retreats to his holiday home on the isolated North Sea island of Parkum. It’s a fictional location – like a smaller sister to the very real and popular Sylt. The atmospheric descriptions of this remote island community add to the enjoyment of the book.
Although he is no longer treating patients, Viktor finds himself pursued by an enigmatic stranger, Anna Glass. She is a writer who believes her characters are coming to life. When she tells him the story of her latest creation, a young girl suffering from a mysterious illness who suddenly goes missing, he is drawn into her strange tale. It’s as intriguing for Viktor as it is suspicious – is Anna really a schizophrenic suffering from delusions, or was she somehow involved in his daughter’s disappearance? What are her intentions? And how is she able to provide him with such accurate details about their family life that no one else would know?
There are harbingers that the story does not end well. Throughout, we have flashforwards of Viktor being tied down and treated for a nervous breakdown. The author cleverly manipulates us with different time frames, so we know that something criminal has happened, but are never quite sure who committed the deed or when. Led into a maze of dead ends and unexpected turns, it becomes impossible to separate truth and fiction. The ending is surprising and painful, begging the question of just what the definition of normal might be and whose interpretation of reality we can trust.
Therapy offers a fascinating insight into mental illness. Yes, perhaps it focuses on the more sensationalist aspects of it, but the book is utterly riveting nevertheless. An original and entertaining writer of true suspense, Fitzek will keep you hooked.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars