Book Review: Passenger 23 by Sebastian Fitzek
The title refers to the disturbing fact that around 23 people disappear from cruise ships every year (excluding pandemic times, obviously). Five years ago, undercover detective Martin Schwartz’s wife and son were two of them. Now, he’s received a disturbing call from an old lady who lives aboard the cruise ship they vanished from - telling him that it’s happened again. Another mother and child have vanished. But this was eight weeks ago - and now the child has turned up. Alive. And the ship’s owners would really rather the attention just went away… so maybe the child will have to as well.
Schwartz doesn’t discover most of this until he’s aboard the ship and it’s sailed for a transAtlantic crossing, trapping him and the thousands of souls aboard for a few days at least. With a possible serial killer hiding among them, it’s a locked-room mystery on an enormous scale - and with an infinitely easy way for the killer to dispose of both victims and evidence.
This is translated from German - apparently Fitzek is enormously popular in Germany - and it definitely struck me as having a slightly different rhythm to murder mysteries written by most English speakers. There are multiple layers of mystery, each being slowly peeled away, at least one coming very late after I thought everything was pretty much wrapped up and providing a genuinely shocking climax I didn’t see coming at all. There are some dark and shocking themes quite apart from the disappearances (trigger warnings for suicide ideation and sexual abuse of children apply). Schwartz, our narrator, is a little bit hard to get to know; as an undercover policeman his personality is literally a cipher. It made it difficult to identify with him, but nevertheless, the story was absolutely fascinating and I could barely put it down. Five stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.