Written by Sebastian Fitzek, translated by John Brownjohn — When it was published in Germany in 2006, Sebastian Fitzek’s debut novel Therapy knocked The Da Vinci Code off the number one spot in the bestseller charts. We’ve reviewed it here, meanwhile Fitzek has made a name for himself both in his native Germany and abroad as a writer of tense psychological thrillers. His specialty is playing mind games with his readers, creating situations which seem to defy all logic, before providing a satisfying resolution many nail-biting pages later.
Simon Sachs is a terminally ill 10-year-old who claims to have been a serial killer in a previous life. Eminent defence lawyer Robert Stern, who lost his own baby son to cot death 10 years previously, is not impressed. All the more so since the person bringing them together is Carina, a nurse with whom he had a brief fling a few years back. Carina means well but believes in what Stern refers to as mumbo-jumbo, such as reincarnation and regression therapy.
Stern is forced to reconsider when they stumble upon the skeletal remains of a man on a derelict industrial estate in Berlin. His skull turns out to have been split by an axe, in the exact location and manner described by Simon, but the crime took place 15 years ago, long before Simon was born.
Naturally, the Berlin police refuse to believe such outlandish claims, even when more bodies are unearthed. Regression therapy could have placed false memories into Simon’s head, but if that is the case then why are his descriptions so uncannily accurate? More disturbingly, Simon claims that he will kill someone else in a few days’ time. He just doesn’t know who or why, only that it will take place on a bridge. Berlin has nearly as many bridges as Venice, so it becomes a classic race against the clock to solve the mystery.
It soon becomes clear that somebody is using this situation to their own advantage and manipulating Stern. Yet, in his desire to help Simon and with his ex-wife and her new family also being threatened, he has no choice but to continue this crazy manhunt. Stern is helped by Carina and a former client with shady dealings of his own, Andi Borchert, and what they do isn’t always entirely legal. They chase people all over modern-day Berlin, trying to avoid both the police and the hospital authorities. Meanwhile, they have to deal with an increasingly fragile child in need of medication, and confront a frightening underworld whose existence they barely suspected.
This is an exciting, pulsating thriller with short chapters, many cliffhangers and rapid shifts of location and points of view. Some of it will make for painful reading, as it deals with child trafficking, abuse, pornography and terminal illness. The author misses no opportunity to tug at our heartstrings. Yet despite this, many of the characters do seem flat and unconvincing, with perhaps Borchert and Simon the only exceptions.
However, Fitzek has done his psychological background research impeccably as usual and it remains a very readable thriller. This could appeal to fans of Sophie Hannah, who also has the knack for creating impossible situations and then finds rational ways to explain them.
The Child comes out 13 August. It has been adapted for film in Germany, and you can watch a trailer with an English voiceover below.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars