The Soul Breaker by Sebastian Fitzek
The Soul Breaker is the latest from one of the most successful German writers of the modern era, Sebastian Fitzek (it has been translated by John Brownjohn). The premise of the book is really a brilliant take on the murder mystery. Only, there is no murder. The soul breaker character seems to do exactly that, breaks the soul of his female victims leaving them seemingly dead inside, in a catatonic state. Each victim, however, is left with a small note balled up in their hands with very cryptic messaging.
After three victims occur in quick succession there is a belief by many that the soul breaker has become tired of the process. At the same time, a man has been found suffering from amnesia outside of a highly exclusive psychiatric unit with no cell phone coverage. With Christmas looming, the weather has turned challenging and contact with the unit has become impossible - not the best time for the head psychiatrist to be found as the fourth victim of the soul breaker.
Taking the reader through a maze of possibilities with some sublime writing throughout, Fitzek has once again cemented himself as a leader in the crime genre. The language is emotive and highly descriptive: “A crisis is said to resemble a sharp fruit knife. It removes the peel and exposes the core: the amorphous, largely instinct-governed primordial state in which morality is dominated by self-preservation” amongst some of the standout pieces from this page turner.
The sort of book that pushes the boundaries of thrillers. At times a little on the creepy side with almost supernatural elements occurings and a strong portrayal of mental health at the extreme end of the scale. There were some moments when the only option was to put the book down and simply take a breath. The narrative is claustrophobic in places as the reader furtively tries to establish exactly what is happening.
There is no build up, it is straight in with the detail and explores the psychological depths some people are pushed too and I think there could well be a few trigger points for some people. It had a strong Stieg Larsson atmosphere to it in places. One may find themselves a little concerned about the European psyche when such psychological thrillers are produced with authenticity and depth.
The scenes are explored with a cinematic viewpoint and there is little doubt that Fitzek would be seeking some sort of film adaptation in the near future. Of particular note is the description of the psychiatric hospital with its exclusivity and intrigue. Fitzek writes with total authority and a confident air.
Of particular note is the structure of the novel and the research that must have been completed to present such an articulate exploration of the technical elements. Either that or he was a psychiatric doctor at some point. One may become a little overwhelmed in places by the technical jargon, but Fitzek does explain in context how the various apparatus and concepts work.
It is interesting that none of the characters are presented with redeeming features. You find yourself frustrated and annoyed with each of them at various points in the novel. There is no real hero. Just those who are slightly less unlikable. Yet, it is exactly this reason that makes the whole experience so remarkably page-turning.
Reviewer: Chris Reed
Head of Zeus