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Blood Eagle is the first novel by Craig Russell, featuring the half Scottish Principal Chief Commissar Jan Fabel. It is set in Hamburg, which the book says is as English a city as you can find outside England.
The plot is engrossing, diverse and at times challenging. It gives an insight into something I had never really considered, the impact of Germany's history on the people of Germany, I suppose it's obvious if you think about it, but whereas our grandparents may have fought in the war, for their grandparents to have fought in the war would mean something completely different. It incorporates a wide swathe of ideas, from the mob and mafia infighting, to terrorism and police intelligence operations.
The story begins with an e-mail from a killer taunting Fabel that he will never catch him, we immediately read of the discovery of a horrifically mutilated body (this isn't a story for the faint-hearted) and we learn that it is the second such murder which has occurred in the same way. More deaths ensue as Fabel follows a path through the murky world of police intelligence and the mob as he discovers that the deaths are linked to Viking rituals. As the story develops we discover that a series of rapes have also been committed which seem to link again to Viking tradition and we follow the trail of a killer who determined that he will never be caught.
Although the plot itself was interesting and unique, I found the ending was unsatisfactory and for that reason I don't know if I would read another of his books.
After having read Russels second book about Jan Fabel, Brother Grimm, I wasnt overly keen on reading anything else by this author. I had enjoyed Brother Grimm in places but found it to be disappointing over all. However, somehow I still ended up with Blood Eagle in my hands. This is the first book in the series of Jan Fabel, Erster Kriminalhauptkommissar (Principal Chief Commissar) with the Hamburg Police murder squad.
The book starts with an email from Son of Sven to Fabel which makes it clear that this Son of Sven character is a murderer and who is taunting Fabel personally with the notion that this is only the beginning and that he will not stop until he is made to do so. So far so run of the mill crime book. However, the plot quickly thickens as Fabel starts to investigate the brutal and apparently ritualistic murders of young women. One of the murdered women was a journalist who was desperately trying to contact Fabel - why? Does this have anything to do with her murder and are the women in any way connected?
As Fabel investigates the brutal, ritualistic aspect of the murders he is drawn into a world of old Viking mythology and legend which proves to still have many modern day followers. But is he really chasing a psychopathic murderer who kills as part of his belief in the old Viking belief, the Asatru, or is something else involved? The deeper he gets into the investigation the more he starts to doubt there is a simple solution as there are suggestions of Turkish and Ukrainian gangs violently trying to take control of the city. Is it possible that they are involved in the murders for specific reasons or is this just a red herring? The questions are many and seem to build throughout most of the book.
Unlike some crime novels it is impossible to guess who has committed the murders and especially why they have been committed. Personally, I enjoy the not knowing, but I found that the many different threads took too long to tie up and I started to lose interest around half way through as it was getting a bit too complex following them all.
The characterisation I found to be a bit weak at times. Fabel is the more or less typical brooding police man with the world on his shoulders. He is, rather conveniently, half-German half Scottish which apparently helps explain some of his more eccentric ideas at least in the eye of his colleagues. I do like the fact that unlike near enough any other main character in this type of book Fabel is blond - for some reason characters of this type tend to be dark but I think in this case it helps set him apart. The other main characters include for example the small, pretty and very aggressive female cop who is, of course, simply hiding her vulnerability and the beautiful, intelligent psychologist/profiler. It is not that the characters are badly drawn, they are just so stereotypical, and in my mind at least, that makes them less believable.
Craig Russell is a Scot but all his Fabel books are set in Hamburg and he clearly has a great interest in German history, language and politics. Not only does he speak German he also clearly has a passion for the city of Hamburg. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of his descriptions of the city but as far as the book goes it works. Russells interest in history, both German and European, is clearly obvious throughout and on one level the book is about life in post-war Europe thus adding yet another layer to the book. German words are often used but I found that in the cases where I didnt know the word itself it was made clear by the context what it meant and I never found myself struggling to understand anything.
Whereas in Brother Grimm I found it disappointing that not enough was made of such a brilliant basic idea Blood Eagle is the opposite to me. The basic story is still good but in this case it seems to me that too much is being made from it. It detracts from the story that there are so very many different elements in my view. Maybe Im just being picky but I like a genuinely brilliant, simple idea to be handled with respect and even though I found both books readable there is just something about the way Russell writes which does not ring true to me. Maybe this is also why it took me unusually long to get through the 482 pages, nearly 3 weeks! I found it quite refreshing to read a book set in Hamburg, a place I know very little about. The author clearly loves the city and his descriptions of it is what makes the story come alive, much more so than any of the characters. I also found the explanations and descriptions of the Asatru very interesting. Being Swedish I have already read a great deal about the religion of my ancestors but many things were still new to me.
If you wish to judge this book for yourself you can easily pick up a copy from amazon used & new from only £0.01 plus postage and packaging.
I always like discovering new authors, especially when they produce books that keep you all up night, as you want to read 'just another chapter'. I'd seen Russell's 'Brother Grimm' and liked the look of it. I looked it up on Amazon and discovered this was a sequel to 'Blood Eagle' so I thought it best to read that first as I hate reading series out of sequence. I was lucky enough to find it at my local library so grabbed it off the shelf. I had assumed the author was Scottish with Russell being of Scottish origin. So when I opened the book up I was shocked that it was set in Germany. I must admit this put me off a little as I was expecting it to be set in Scotland and thought it would be along the lines of Rankins Rebus. The first thing that greeted me was a map of Hamburg. I thought it would be a translated novel and worried about how fluid the language would be.
Before deciding to read the book I looked Craig Russell up online to see if this were the case. I discovered that he is indeed Scottish. He was born in Fife and now lived in the West of Scotland. He speaks German and has an interest in the nations history and culture. This explains why he has set it in Hamburg rather than Scotland. Blood Eagle is in fact his first novel and it is part of a series, which will feature the main character Jan Fabel. So dismissing my negative thoughts I decided to give the book a go.
The story opens up with Kriminalhauptkommissar (German for Principal Chief Commissar) Jan Fabel being sent an email from 'Son of Sven'. The message taunts him about the second ritualistic killing that has just occured. The sender not only claims that was it him but he won't stop. He thinks that he is carrying out a sacred act and says, "I shall have spread the wings of the eagle far and wide". This is referring to a Viking human sacrifice in which the lungs are ripped out and displayed over the shoulders as if the wings of an eagle. The killings are brutal and Russell is really descriptive so those who don't like this kind of detail would do best not to read this.
Fabel is clearly disturbed and troubled by the deaths that are happening. The most recent victim is an anonymous girl who goes by the name of Monique. It looks like she is a prostitute and this puzzles Fabel, as the previous victim was a lawyer. The plot thickens when the person who called to report her murder turns out to be Klugmann. He used to be a policeman and was dismissed from the force for drug use. It appears that he is her pimp but things don't add up. After an interview Fabel isn't satisfied that he is the culprit.
There are more twist and turns the deeper Fabel and his colleagues investigate the horrifying murders. He looks into the mythology behind the 'Blood Eagle' and tries to understand how the killer sees things and get into his mind. If he can work out how his mind works then he might be able to stop the next one. He finds there is a cult that still uses sacrifice but the trouble is finding the person (or people) behind it and proving it. It isn't a simple plot as not only with all the murders and finding out the Viking mythology there is a sub plot involving the Turks and Ukrainians. It isn't clear at first whether they have anything to do with it but Fabel doesn't want to dismiss any lead he has. On top of all this the Secret Police (The Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND for short) have an interest in the case and are bothering Fabel who thinks they are withholding information from him which would help his investigation.
Fabel is divorced as detectives usually are in crime fiction. He isn't self-destructive or self-pitying like most tend to be so this is refreshing. He doesn't go home from work and drown his sorrows in a bottle of whiskey. He is dedicated to the case and doesn't see it a 'just a job'. There is a reason for him becoming a policeman but I won't reveal the reason why. He seems to have more depth to him that I was expecting but at the same time his personality wasn't focused on a lot of the time. He is referred to as 'der englische kommissar' several times as his mother was Scottish and he was educated in England. He finds this annoying and I wonder if Russell has modelled Fabel on himself, as he seems to have the same background as him.
The other characters all work well as part of a team and seem to compliment Fabel. Whilst Fabel relies on his intuition Werner is methodical and thorough in his work. Then they have Maria who is highly analytical. Werner and Maria are both of the same rank below Fabel and get on well with him. There is no tension between them or competitiveness. Although Werner appears to have an attitude problem in some parts he gets the job done. I didn't think the characters were fully developed but then as this is the first novel as part of a series I thought that maybe there was a reason for this. Plus with lots happening in the plot it could over complicate things and confuse the reader. So although I would have liked to have read more on what they all thought I can see the reason for Russell not developing them.
The fact that Russell has set the novel in Germany and uses German phrases every now and then can make it seem a little disjointed. A few times I had to re-read bits to try and work out what the German word would have meant. Most the words have appeared to be swear words (for example scheisse) and titles such as Herr and Frau. I assumed what they meant as I read and I never had the impulse to look them up, as they weren't an integral part of the story. Having no knowledge of the German language found this annoying in some parts purely because the author is English speaking. I've read other books, which have been translated from foreign languages before (for example, Henning Mankell a Swedish author), and this was never an issue. Although there is a glossary at the front of the books for some of the police terminology the other words used weren't included.
The same could be said for the place names. There are various areas of Hamburg mentioned which means nothing to me. Of course the same can be said when reading a novel set in say America. However, my geography of Germany is seriously lacking. I don't see this as a bad thing though as it's refreshing to read a novel set somewhere different. Also the more I read the more I became familiar with the places mentioned. A map is included at the beginning so every now and then I found myself flicking back to it. Blood Eagle is the first of several books set in Hamburg and indeed featuring Jan Fabel. I intend on reading all of them at some point so the more I read the less annoying the use of German words and places will become.
The plot certainly wasn't predictable and there were several twists that were always a step ahead. There were times that it was fast paced in places and then other times where I felt that it was too descriptive in places. It was if Russell was trying to prove that he knows Hamburg really well. The certainly does but some of this may not interest some readers. His knowledge on German history was also very good and he obviously has a passion for it. I'm not saying that I wasn't interested but I felt that some of these parts were overly long and I wanted to find out what was going to happen next. That said I really did enjoy this book and I found myself reading more and more just to find out what would happen. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes crime fiction and you don't have to have an interest or any knowledge in Germany to enjoy this. If you do, I think you'd enjoy it all the more. I'd be interested to know how it translated in to German or if Russell wrote it in German as well. I tried looking on the German Amazon to see if I could find out where 'Blood Eagle' ranked in the sales but I got a bit lost.
The first victim had her lungs ripped out. When another woman is found murdered in the same horrific and ritualistic way, it is clear that a serial killer is terrorising the city. But there is no precise evidence to link the two cases, except for a taunting email that threatens yet more killings. Detective Jan Fabel is haunted by the murders, and their possible connection to a subsequent series of rapes by masked attackers. His desperate attempts to stop the killer before more victims are discovered, gradually uncovers layer upon layer of intrigue and violence. How can he track down a murderer who leaves no trail, whose victims seem purposefully random and whose motive reaches into the darkest recesses of the human soul? In his first crime novel, Craig Russell introduces us to a new detective hero, Jan Fabel - half-Scottish, half-German - a man of conscience and imagination. Russell has also created a richly textured scenario where the City of Hamburg plays a central role - it is a city where the old Germany combines increasingly with the new, where gangs from Turkey and the Ukraine battle for supremacy.