Sunday, September 13, 2015

“Un-Scottish” Work Scores Scottish Prize

Crime Watch reports that British author Craig Russell has won the fourth annual Scottish Crime Book of the Year award for his 2015 novel, The Ghosts of Altona (Quercus). That commendation was presented to him during a formal dinner held last evening as part of this weekend’s Bloody Scotland convention held in Stirling. “I think it’s significant that a novel so clearly not set in Scotland can win the Bloody Scotland award,” Russell is quoted as saying.

I’ve read a couple of Russell’s previous novels, both of which--like The Ghosts of Altona--starred Jan Fabel, his fictional half-Scottish, half-German, and fully human homicide detective. A review on the Web site Euro Crime describes Ghost’s plot this way:
The Ghosts of Altona begins with the shooting of the protagonist Jan Fabel, head of Hamburg’s Murder Commission, during the raid of a suspected child killer. An unusual opening for this Gothic thriller, but fast-forward two years and we find out that Fabel is alive, physically recovered yet struggling with the aftermath of his Near Death Experience (NDE). He’s unable to express how this has changed him and claims he has put the past to rest, yet feels the need to reassure others to accept the current state of affairs.

Fabel also is haunted by an old, unresolved case which literally comes back to the surface under a car park in Altona, part of Hamburg. A body of an ethereally beautiful, intelligent and cruel Monika Krone is found, fifteen years after she went missing after a party. Monika was the centre of a group of students obsessed with all things Gothic, and her unsettling beauty had absolutely magnetic qualities. At the time Fabel helped to convict Jochen Hübner, an unrepentant monstrous serial rapist, for her murder. Hübner, known as Frankenstein, claimed that he would never kill his victims, just allow them to relive horrors he had subjected them to. As the news of the discovery of Monika’s body spread, Hübner manages to escape from prison and disappears off the face of the earth--and new murders are committed. This time the men who had been involved with Monika turn up dead. The chilling and terrifying ghosts come to life … The killer employs Gothic ‘methods’ and symbolism to stylise the killings in a manner based on the writings by Edgar Allan Poe, an American author of macabre and Gothic stories.
Euro Crime’s Ewa Sherman adds that Russell’s latest book (his first Fabel tale in four years, following 2011’s A Fear of Dark Water) “is not another disturbing but compelling thriller detailing a search for a serial killer. It's not just a modern stylish Gothic story set in the twenty-first century. It also tells of a history of Altona in Hamburg which saw geographical borders moving between Denmark and Germany, and riots in the past.” Ghosts certainly sounds like a work I’d be interested in reading, and now that the Bloody Scotland folks have given it their thumbs-up, I am doubly likely to search out a copy.

To capture this year’s Scottish Crime Book of the Year prize, The Ghosts of Altona had to beat out five other, earlier-announced finalists: Paths of the Dead, by Lin Anderson (Pan); DM for Murder, by Matt Bendoris (Contraband); Dead Girl Walking, by Chris Brookmyre (Little, Brown); Thin Air, by Ann Cleeves (Macmillan); and Death Is a Welcome Guest, by Louise Welsh (John Murray). Congratulations to Russell and all of these other authors, as well, for their efforts to enrich the crime and mystery fiction genre.


Anonymous said...

Yet another story in which a killer "mimics" Poe's stories as modus operandi for his murders? Give me a break! There're been countless books and movies using this same tired old concept in just the last few years. And this is what is chosen as a the best mystery? What's next? A very clever detective who takes drugs, plays the violin and has a doctor side-kick?

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Keep in mind, a fine prose stylist can work wonders even with a plot that isn't entirely new.