Emma’s the one that got away.
The only survivor of a killer known in the tabloids as ‘the barber’ – because of the trophies he takes from his victims.
Or she thinks she was.
The police aren’t convinced. Nor is her husband. She never even saw her tormentor properly, but now she recognises him in every man.
Questioning her sanity, she gives up her job as a doctor in the local hospital and retreats from the world. It is better to stay at home. Quiet. Anonymous. Safe. He won’t find her here.
After the traineeship at a private radio station, he switched to the competition as head of entertainment, becoming chief editor. Thereafter he became an independent executive consultant and format developer for numerous media companies across Europe.
Sebastian is one of Germany’s most successful authors of psychological thrillers. His books have sold over 11 million copies, been translated into more than 24 languages, and have been the basis for international theatre and cinema adaptations.
He was the first German author to be awarded the European Prize for Criminal Literature.
Sebastian lives with his family in Berlin.
The book has been translated from its original German by talented translator, Jamie Bulloch
As part of the earlier Blog Tour, I featured quite a lengthy extract from the prologue of this book (click the link to view the Blog Tour Post), so here I shall only include a short extract from the first chapter.
“Twenty-eight years later ‘Don’t do it. I was lying. Please don’t…’
The audience , consisting almost entirely of men, tried not to show any emotion as they watched the half-naked, black-haired woman being tortured.
‘For God’s sake, it’s a mistake. I just made it all up. A terrible mistake… Help!’
Her cries echoed around the whitewashed, sterile room; her words were clearly intelligible. Nobody present would be able to claim later that they’d misunderstood her. The woman didn’t want this.”
“Recently, however, Emma had been wishing that both of them would take a step backwards. She was continually nagged by the feeling that in their time off, which was fairly meagre anyway, Philipp was also finding it increasingly difficult to achieve the necessary distance from his work. And she was worried that they were well on the way to proving Nietzsche’s dictum about the abyss: if you gazed into it deeply and for long enough, it would start gazing into you”
“Sometimes Emma wondered whether the Hairdresser had also given her a system reboot that night in the hotel and restored her emotional hard drive to its factory settings. And clearly she was a dud: defective goods that unfortunately couldn’t be exchanged”
“Anxiety eats into the soul and hollows people out from the inside. It also feeds on human time”
“What sort of life is it if you can’t distinguish between madness and reality?”
“Out of love, Emma. I did it all only out of love”
“All you’ve done is taken in a parcel for a neighbour”
Okay! It’s time to let me out of this straitjacket, where I have been put to stop me tying myself up in knots any further, biting my nails down to the quick with anxiety, or pulling my hair out with frustration, because I just couldn’t work out what was being done to poor Emma, why and by whom, until the very last minute and only seconds away from the big reveal!
I think I have stated that just about every one of my eleven books read so far this year have been the best, but this one has trumped them all soundly and gone straight to the top of my charts!
I know that a good book should have the ability to take each reader on a totally unique and individual journey, but will someone please tell me where I have been for the last couple of days whilst I have been reading this book, as I’m not at all sure what just happened to me. I only know that I am mentally distraught after fighting Emma’s battles alongside her, willing her to pull through her mind-twisting nightmare; whilst physically exhausted with trying to turn the pages faster and faster, as the tension and danger was ratcheted up again and again.
The multi-layered plot offers no beginning, as Emma’s nightmare had started even before the first page had been opened and the first word read, and certainly long before ‘The Package’ arrives. No middle, as for Emma, her entire life had shifted from one mental health episode to another. No end, for as I closed the final cover and prepared to walk away, Emma is still as locked into her own personal hell as her tormenter, only for Emma there seems to be no way back, as she has seen too many horrific things and done such terrible things, that she can never unsee, undo, or make right!
With total authority and supreme confidence, the author has constructed an infinitely tangled web of lies, deceit, manipulation and control, the likes of which is unfathomable, unbelievable and which for Emma, who is the proverbial fly caught in the trap, has sealed her fate for a lifetime.
Events spiral further and further out of control, making this gipping, gritty and disturbing storyline, which is powerfully yet often unreliably told in Emma’s own voice and from her own rather fractured and disconnected point of view, unconventional, compelling and infinitely more dangerous than anyone could ever have envisaged.
The action is desperately intense, relentless and rich in atmosphere. The story flows along at a cracking pace, has some fast changing dynamics, yet with no break in the tension. The skilled narrative and dialogue is fluid and effortlessly written, although often difficult and upsetting to read, as Emma’s mental health deteriorates and she spirals down into the depths of despair, raising questions about her sanity and capacity to reason things logically, recognise fact from fiction, truth from lies, reality from imagination.
Yes! there are a couple of holes in the storyline, as totally invested as I was. even I could see that. However for the sheer thrill of this edge-of-the-seat, white-knuckle ride, a little implausibility is surely acceptable!
Emma’s mental health issues are unquestioned and unquestionable. Her torment, anguish, pain and daily struggle to survive, are laid bare and in excruciatingly vivid detail, for everyone to see, and I defy anyone not to be moved to despair at witnessing her downward spiralling decline. This made even more devastating by the eventual discovery that almost everything about her life is a lie, which has been contrived and supremely manipulated, with Emma herself, a mere puppet in someone else’s game. If family events from her childhood had been left to run their course, would she still have been quite so vulnerable and fragile as she is now, or could she have grown to lead a fulfilling and completely normal life? Not from any personal experience, only that witnessed as similar events unfolded with a close family member, I felt that the issues related to Emma’s steady mental health decline, were dealt with sympathetically yet with brutal honesty. It isn’t pretty or peaceful for either the victim, who loses all sense of reason and control, or their friends and family, who are powerless to stop the relentless steady breakdown of a loved one.
Given the eventual devastating outcome to this seriously sick and evil debacle, I was left wondering exactly who actually had the most serious mental health issues, Emma or the perpetrator of her downfall, whose depravity seems to have no limits, no remorse and no outwardly visual signs to the lay person of the evil which lurks within. It takes the tenacity and perseverance of an outsider, with a trained eye and an ounce of conscience to question what is happening within the confines of Emma’s troubled mind and thus get inside the sick mind of her tormenter.
All of the other characters are really just so much complex ‘window dressing’ for the main cast, Emma and her nemesis. They are without exception, a bunch of spineless, manipulative wasters, all out to play on Emma’s vulnerability and capitalise on her downfall to further their own ends and cover up their own multifarious crimes and indiscretions. Murder, assault, theft, rape, adultery, abuse of authority, abortion – the list is endless, all crimes committed in Emma’s name, then leaving her to pick up the pieces of her shattered life, alone! Sebastian has done an amazing job of getting me to despise every single one of this disparate bunch and had me screaming at the pages as they individually and collectively coerce Emma, in her ever-declining state of cognizance and vulnerability, to also commit crimes in their names, leaving her to bear the full burden of culpability,
I have previously read books by written by German authors, who have commissioned historian Jamie Bulloch, to translate their books into English. The Package has been treated to Jamie’s usual faultless attention to detail, making it, from a purely technical perspective, a real joy to read.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!