Random House Australia, Hutchinson, June 2006
Review by Kerrie Smith
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.
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
First published on Murder and Mayhem, June 2006
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