The Ghost of Altona by Craig Russell

Review published on May 12, 2016.

Fife born Craig Russell, also sometimes known as Christopher Galt, has had his Hamburg-set thriller series featuring detective Jan Fabel translated into 23 languages. As a multi-award winner of various crime accolades, his writing talents are widely recognised and celebrated. Having a post war interest in Germany has enriched his story telling and offers a unique and enthralling angle to his crime writing. Indeed he has won the Scottish Crime Novel of the Year for this book.

Fabel is the much respected long-standing Principal Chief Commissar in Hamburg. He is half-Scottish, half-German and trained as a historian before becoming a policeman. As such he applies police investigations with the same methodology he would when looking at a time in history – something happens before a criminal event that informs what results in a crime…

Fabel is shot in the line of duty and experiences a near death experience (NDE). Recovering from this he  takes part in a group research session on NDE, which he refers to as the Club of the Living Dead. He does this whilst being back at work and trying to lead on a previously unsolved case; the experience having changed his perspective on life somewhat.

Following the discovery of the body of Monika Krone, the victim of the first case that Fabel was involved in 15 years previously, this cold case appears to act as a catalyst for fresh murders as men involved with Monika start turning up dead. The corpses are found with a gothic style tattoo. It quickly becomes apparent that Fabel is looking for a killer with both an appetite for vengeance and a pleasure in the macabre.

The science of the NDE phenomena is deftly explored and woven into the out of body enhancing experiences and such as the incapacitating drug, Xylazine has had on some of the characters.

The story construction is one of the best I have come across. There is clearly lot of well researched and referenced work here. The core characters, seven novels-worth in, are extremely well formed, yet evidently still growing and developing. But richly weaving in prior known criminal characters, a gothic backdrop with the science of drug use and NDE to make a solid, plausible, absorbing crime story cannot be done without much skill and timing. From the reader’s perspective at least, this is done effortlessly and what results is an engrossing, fast paced, scintillating read. Even if you haven’t read a Fabel novel before you can enjoy this book equally as a standalone. And if you haven’t read one of Russell’s books before I would strongly recommend you discover him and probably add him to your list of favourites.

Sara Garland
Personal 5
Group 4

The Ghost of Altona by Craig Russell
Quercus 9781780874981 pbk Sep 2015

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