Brother Grimm, by Craig Russell

>> Sunday, November 15, 2015

TITLE: Brother Grimm
AUTHOR: Craig Russell

PAGES: 448
PUBLISHER: Arrow Books

SETTING: Contemporary Hamburg, Germany
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 2nd in the Jan Fabel series

A girl's body lies, posed, on the pale sand of a Hamburg beach, a message concealed in her hand. 'I have been underground, and now it is time for me to return home...'

Jan Fabel, of the Hamburg murder squad, struggles to interpret the twisted imagery of a dark and brutal mind. Four days later, a man and a woman are found deep in woodland, their throats slashed deep and wide, the names 'Hansel' and 'Gretel', in the same, tiny, obsessively neat writing, rolled tight and pressed into their hands.

As it becomes clear that each new crime is a grisly reference to folk stories collected almost two hundred years ago by the Brothers Grimm, the hunt is on for a serial killer who is exploring our darkest, most fundamental fears. A predator who kills and then disappears into the shadows.

A monster we all learned to fear in childhood.

When the murdered body of a young girl is found on a beach near-Hamburg, a paper stating her name is Paula Ehlers clutched in her hand, Kriminalhauptkommissar Jan Fabel and his team initially take this at face value. Paula has been missing for 3 years, and the dead girl looks about what you'd expect Paula to look 3 years later. But then it turns out the body isn't that of Paula. A few days later, two more people are found dead, with similar pieces of paper in their hands. They, the papers state, are "Hansel" and "Gretel". And it becomes clear to Fabel and his team that they're facing a serial killer with some fascination for the stories of the Brothers Grimm.

My reaction to this one was mixed. On the plus side, I really enjoyed the characters and wanted to see more of them and their relationships. The people in Fabel's team are interesting and all very different, and I liked the way Fabel treated them. He's a good boss, interested in getting the work done but also in developing and nurturing the people in his team, seeing them as capable professionals, but not losing sight of them as human beings. I was also very interested in Fabel's relationship with Suzanna, a forensic psychologist (I think that's the right term; she's on that field, anyway!) It's clear that all these relationships started in book 1 in the series, Blood Eagle, but while I did feel that I was missing something, it was still satisfying and Russell gave me enough to catch up.

I also liked the setting. I'm not quite sure what Russell's background is and if he's lived in Hamburg, but the setting feels vivid. There are a few instances of a bit toomuch exposition about the history of a particular district and stuff like that, but these instances were minor and didn't really bother me much. I know some readers on goodreads were uncomfortable with the amount of German Russell used (e.g. all the titles and names of the places, even the simply descriptive ones, are given in German), but I didn't mind. It was fairly easy to deduce what was meant, and I felt it added to the colour.

The actual case, unfortunately, ended up on the negative side. It just wasn't as good as it could have been. It started out really intriguing, with the fairy tale connections, but it soon turned into a bit of a bloodbath, with the connections crossing the line into preposterously overcomplicated and non-sensical. And then the actual ending was pretty bad. Yes, I didn't guess the culprit, but purely because I don't think I really could have. I won't say more because I don't want to spoil it, but I didn't feel Russell played quite fair. Also, it was all pretty anticlimactic. No tension or risk, basically. The cops do a bit of quite good deduction and identify the culprit, but he's done with his killings, anyway, and the arrest is super smooth and he confesses all. In fact, he confesses all to an excruciating level of detail. Almost the last hour in the audiobook could have been dispensed with, as it was all either covering stuff we already knew or could deduce, or boring stuff about the killer's sick mind that really had no point.

On the whole, I'm glad I read it, though, and I mostly enjoyed it, but it was disappointing that it could have been so much better!



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