Source: Review copy
Publication: 22 August 2019 from Manilla
FOR THIS KILLER, IT’S A GAME OF A B C
When the body of a man is found brutally murdered in a wildlife park and tattooed with a letter A, criminal profilers Jan Grall and Rabea Wyler are thrown into a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Later, two more mutilated bodies are found, again with tattoos on their skin – B and C – and it becomes clear that Grall and Wyler are dealing with a brutal serial killer. One who won’t stop until his set is complete.
When Grall’s hotel room is marked with a Z and his girlfriend kidnapped, the race is on to find out who the killer is.
Before it’s too late . . .
I did enjoy this ‘scandi style’ serial killer murder mystery. At the heart of a good range of characters sit criminal behaviourists Jan Grall and Rabea Wyler. Both have deep backstories and secrets they hide from each other, but this story concentrates predominantly on Jan Grall.
Although the author is German, I have referred to this as ‘scandi style’ because the nature of the crimes is as dark and gruesome as you’d expect from scandi-noir. This serial killer is bent on a course of action that sees murder victims dropping like flies, with a letter of the alphabet tattooed on their skin, starting with A – though it’s really not very long into the book before our killer has got to G.
For Jan Grall, being called to the Westerwald area brings with it conflicting thoughts. This is his old stomping ground; the area where he grew up and where he still has some family. Its years since he has been back and there are some people he can’t help but think about as he comes home.
He already knows the Senior Chief Superintendent of Major Crimes in Koblenz who has suggested calling in the profilers. Anita Ichagawa is a modern policewoman. In control, whip smart and ready for anything, she and Jan know each other from a long time ago. Her Chief Superintendent, Stuter, does not take easily to being under the command of a woman. Neither is he a big fan of profilers, so Grall and Wyler have their work cut out with him.
The story is told in the third person, mainly from Jan’s perspective though we do hear from other characters and from one victim, a young woman named Tugba who is determined that she will not go down without a fight.
Well plotted and very suspenseful, this tense and dark serial killer mystery hits the ground running with a murder in a wildlife park and doesn’t let up, leaving the profilers reeling in the wake of so many murders coming one after another.
Set in the frozen mid-winter, The Alphabet Murders uses the chilling setting to great effect, showing the twisted mind of a torturer determined to spell out his gruesome message on the skin of a victim, leaving Jan and Rabea unable to get a handle on what is happening, so fast are events happening. Jan can’t help but feel that the answer must lie within his grasp, if only he can think clearly enough to find it.
In reading this novel, I felt that the author had laid solid groundwork for more books with these characters and I’d certainly be up for reading more. I would, however, like to see a better version. While I really enjoyed this story, I didn’t feel like the writing flowed sufficiently well to keep the immersion in the story as deep as it could have been. Some of the prose could have used a little ironing out and that would have helped transform the book from enjoyable into something more.
Verdict: The atmosphere is fraught and laden with tension and excitement, adding layer on layer to a well thought through debut novel.
Lars Schütz was born in 1992. He works as a copywriter for a large advertising agency in Düsseldorf. The Alphabet Murders is his debut thriller.