Friday, 30 December 2011

One Man's Opinion: The Killing Of Emma Gross by Damien Seaman


The Killing Of Emma Gross is based upon a true story, set in a period when ‘the Ripper’ (or ‘Vampire Of Dusseldorf’) was terrorising families in Germany in the late 1920s.


It's out of the Blasted Heath stable and it's another of the thoroughbreds they seem to enjoy working with.

The murder we’re concerned with is of one Emma Gross, a prostitute found killed in the room of a seedy hotel where customers pay by the hour.  It’s one that comes as part of a rather unfortunate package.

Seaman takes the idea of this unsolved case and weaves a wonderful story for the reader to delight in.

The book opens with Detective Michael Ritter with the body of Emma Gross and we get a fly on the wall view of what happens.

From that point on we’re inside the head of one Detective Thomas Klein.  In fact, we’re not just inside his head but inside his whole body as it reacts to each situation and new emotion in different ways.  It’s quite a skill Seaman has with internal settings, giving us not only Klein’s insides, but small rooms and oppressive atmospheres that lend to the whole piece a claustrophobic feel which entirely makes sense for the period and situation.

Unfortunately for Klein, he has something of a history with his senior colleague Ritter and this leads to trouble when their paths cross over the case.

Klein has been tipped off about the ‘the Ripper’ Peter Kurten and sets off to arrest him in a church.

Instead of making Klein the hero, Ritter turns the world upside down and Klein is given a roasting in an interrogation room. 

The bringing in of a Berlin hotshot soon sees Klein back on the case and he’s soon sent off to work on a maverick operation that leaves him vulnerable from every angle.

Klein is a superb character.  An old storm trooper who’s allowed himself to go to seed, he moves through the underbelly of the city with all senses bar smell switched on.

We get a glimpse of what it might have been like in a post-war world where the communists have been crushed, there’s an economic depression and Freud has a spreading influence that percolates through German Expressionism.  I got flashes of the movie ‘M’ every so often (Fritz Lang’s very early talkie from the period and dealing with a serial child-killer)  – that’s a film I admire greatly so if the effect was intentional, I take my hat off.

Seaman throws in some German language every once in a while, usually in terms of humour (the word ‘arsch’ is slipped in wonderfully from time-to-time).

I’d say he also did a lot of research, but it’s leaked to us subtly rather than rammed.

It’s a must for the fan of the police procedural and is even more of an essential read for those fans looking for something with a strong and unique flavour.

Full Marx.

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