28 October 2009

Review: BROTHER GRIMM, Craig Russell

This is a book that I originally reviewed back in 2006, and published the review elsewhere.
Random House Australia, Hutchinson, June 2006

BROTHER GRIMM by Craig Russell opens dramatically with the discovery of the body of a teenage girl on a Hamburg beach, kneeling, posed, eyes wide open. It is obvious to Jan Fabel, Kriminalhauptkommissar of the Mordkommission, based at the Polizeiprasidium in Hamburg, that she was not killed there. At the mortuary a note is found concealed in her hand. The note identifies the girl as a 13 year old who went missing on her way home from school 3 years earlier. But it is not the same girl. Fabel has worked this out even before her parents come to identify the body and confirm his suspicions. Then two more bodies turn up, posed at a picnic table in the woods, with notes also concealed in their hands. The notes say "Hansel" and "Gretel", in the same tiny, neat writing.

Jan Fabel is one of the modern breed of homicide squad chiefs. He resents the one way relationship he has with the dead. It is his job to get to know them. He dreads the time when a body becomes a real person, and the case number becomes a name. He runs a close knit team whose members represent different generations and styles of policing. On a previous case two policemen were killed, one from Fabel's team. One of the female officers from his team hovered near death for two weeks after being stabbed. The killer was never caught and in BROTHER GRIMM the young woman, Maria, has just returned to work.

For English-language readers BROTHER GRIMM is basically a police procedural in a different setting. There are a few differences in the police hierarchy and methods but basically I think this is a book that could be set anywhere. Having said that, great pains have been taken to relate to the German audience. The book was released simultaneously in English and as a German translation. The setting of BROTHER GRIMM is very Germanic. I don't think I will ever look at Grimm's fairy tales in quite the same way again. It helps if the reader has a passing knowledge of the best-known of them.

One of the interesting features about this book is that every chapter is headed with date, time, and location so that the reader can work out an exact chronology of events. Not everything is seen through the eyes of the detective, Jan Fabel, so there are some overlapping chronologies. This is a book where a map would have helped the non-German reader. Significance is at times attached to locations and birth places.

And, no, I didn't work out who the killer was. The reader actually does meet the killer quite early on, but there are few clues given to his real identity. When Fabel pulled the threads together for me, then I followed his reasoning eagerly. There is plenty of tension built into this book, although the style is a little ponderous at times.

My rating 4.6
Read an extract.

In his first crime novel, BLOOD EAGLE (2005), Craig Russell introduced detective hero, Jan Fabel - half-Scottish, half-German - a man of conscience and imagination. The novels are set in Hamburg, and have been carefully marketed to both English-language readers and German readers. Extracts of both BLOOD EAGLE and BROTHER GRIMM and information about the author can be read on the author's own website at http://www.craigrussell.com/books.htm.

Reviews & sites to check:


Kiwicraig said...

Good review Kerrie. This was my first Craig Russell as well Kerrie. I bought it at the airport before a long flight to the USA back in 07. Read it at the US summer camp I was working at.

Weird how these things work out - I'd never heard of him before that, was being a travel bum myself at the time, and then ended up interviewing him earlier this year. Crazy world.

Kerrie said...

I remeber there being quite a publicity campaign that launched this book simultaneously in English and German Carig. It was quite unusual at the time, but much more commonplace now.


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