It takes tenacity to stay the ride with these Valkyries

2009-12-16 00:00


The Valkyrie Song

Craig Russell


CRAIG Russell has gained a reputation as a distinctive and exciting crime writer (Blood Eagle, The ­Carnival Master), an ingenious ­plotter and skilled in the ritual or ­serial-killer genre, grisly but never gratuitously disgusting.

This latest novel is set in ­Hamburg, where an English pop star is found horridly killed in the red-light ­district, in a manner ­reminiscent of the “Angel of St ­Pauli”, a female serial killer active a decade before.

Links emerge with apparently ­unrelated events: a journalist ­murdered in Norway, the death of a Serbian gangster. And there ­appears to be a connection with a long-­forgotten project by East ­Germany’s Stasi, developed during the Cold War: the secret training of a group of female assassins, codenamed Valkyrie.

In charge of the case is Jan Fabel, yet another of those intelligent, ­humane, honourable, likeable, ­rather world-weary and disillusioned fictional detectives scattered throughout Europe and ­Scandinavia these days, with a mean-spirited ex-wife, a bright daughter who wants to join the police, and a beautiful ­lover who wants a commitment he’s so far unable to make.

At least — unlike a lot of his ­rather beat-up colleagues in Scandinavia — Fabel doesn’t drink, nor does he overeat, as do some of his Italian ­confr è res. So he’s pretty much on the ball all the time.

Just as well, as he has to deal, mainly in flawless English, with so many interested parties from ­different countries, and also must cope with the idea of ghastly female killing machines, at least one of whom is a truly worst-nightmare type.

It’s well written and cleverly ­convoluted, with plenty of new ­ideas presented authentically, and Russell has done his Cold War homework well — and also clearly has a genuine affection for the ­modern Hamburg. But, presumably because he was obliged to pad the book out to best-selling paperback length, it’s just too long: so ­ravelled, so complicated, so full of startling revelations, that the reader, first jaded, then wearied, begins to wonder if it’s really worth soldiering on to the end.

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