With no sign of a professional haircut on the horizon I bought my own electric clippers and boldly did the job myself. If I’d read this book before that brave/foolhardy move I might have been put off and settled for the long ponytail instead. The serial killer here is called The Hairdresser and readers may begin to fear the soft buzz of the hair clippers after reading this chiller. The press came up with that nickname for the killer in The Package because he shaves his female victims bald after attacking them. It’s an innocuous sounding epithet for a vicious attacker, it belies the devastation of his crimes. Fitzek is concerned with perception; how the killer and the victims are seen by the public/family/friends. He is also a master of disturbingly off kilter storytelling. The atmosphere is unsettling and yet gripping, there’s no chance readers will not want to know what happens next. There are a couple of things that make this kind of serial killer novel worth reading for me. First is Fitzek is acutely aware of the terror and the horror in his story and at no point does the entertainment let you forget that the violence is nasty and shocking, this is not exploitative. The central character, Emma, is a psychologist, and a rare survivor of the killer, and Fitzek uses her story to explore the fear and devastation, the lasting pain, of an attack. Secondly, this is a crowded field and Fitzek, the best selling author of psychological mysteries in Germany, has an original take, the way he sets up the story is deeply intriguing.
Emma is scared of Arthur, he lives in her bedroom cupboard. One night she runs into her parents bedroom shaking with her fear of the visitor, her father shouts at her for disturbing his sleep and sends her packing. For the first time she sees Arthur come out of the cupboard, he is wearing a motorbike helmet and carrying something she later learns is a syringe.
Twenty-eight years later at a medical conference Dr Emma Stein is addressing her fellow psychologists about abuses in treatment of patients at clinics in Germany. She has even allowed herself to be committed to experience bad practice and prove her point. That night in her hotel room there’s a message on her bathroom mirror:
Before it’s too late’
She is temporarily paralysed by fear. Then the hotel concierge rings her mobile to ask if she is planning on checking in and when she says she is already in room 1704 the man tells her they have no room 1704 in the hotel. That’s when she hears the buzz. Emma is found hours later shaven headed at a bus stop with no memory of the attack. The police and even her husband doubt her story. Normally The Hairdresser kills his victims but Emma is alive – it’s not over.
After that day, one thing is for sure Emma knows everyone who comes to the house, even the delivery man, Salim. One day Salim asks her to take a package for neighbour, she doesn’t know the man but with some trepidation she agrees. Emma understands the paranoia, the irrational but understandable fears of the victim of violence, she’s handling things – or is she? Things start happening around the house, like her father, her husband is sceptical of her fears. Things escalate, there are plenty of twists and turns and one seriously deranged killer. This is a chilling/thrilling ride and remember what ever you do, don’t take in The Package for that neighbour you don’t know, it won’t end well!
Fans of serial killer fiction will love The Package, perhaps having read Fitzek’s previous chiller Splinter. Translated by Jamie Bullock.
Review by Paul Burke
Personal read 3.5*
Group read 4*
Head of Zeus, hardback, ISBN 9781838934477, 12/11/20