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Friday 12 March 2021

‘Passenger 23’ by Sebastian Fitzek

Published by Head of Zeus,
4 February 2021. 
ISBN: 978-1-838979-5 (HB)
Translated by Jamie Bulloch. 

Martin Schwartz is a police psychologist in Berlin.  Five years ago his wife and son vanished from the cruise ship Sultan of the Seas and, given the limited evidence available, a verdict of murder/suicide was returned.  Martin is haunted by his loss, his life both personal and professional blighted.  He does not care for his safety, takes irresponsible risks in the line of duty and has refused to take early retirement.

Unexpectedly, he is contacted by Gerlinde Dobkowitz, an elderly woman who seems to be a permanent resident of the Sultan.  She says that she has information relating to his family, so he goes to see her and learns that a mother and daughter have subsequently disappeared. Martin’s visit to the ship lasts longer than he had expected when the missing girl, Anouk, reappears, holding his son’s teddy bear.  As he investigates the strange and growing mystery of what happened to his family and to Anouk and her mother, he uses his particular skills to try and help Anouk to recover from whatever experiences have deprived her of the power of speech.  Martin struggles to understand what is going on, and the plot is as labyrinthine as the ship – whenever a possible solution appears another twist changes the focus.

The book provides useful information about the cruise industry generally, and highlights the difficulty of policing cruise ships effectively, which means that crimes can be virtually impossible to solve, pointing out that, among the thousands of passengers and crew, there are likely to be criminal elements looking for opportunities.  The story has one such - the thief, who travels the world on cruise ships as a legitimate, paying passenger, but who is busy taking advantage of his fellow holidaymakers whenever they lose something or leave a cabin unlocked.  

The author constructs a closeted and claustrophobic atmosphere.  The tension does not let up – unpleasant things happen, Martin does not know whom he can trust, or what dangers lurk in the below-surface warren of corridors and cabins.  The reader’s expectation of a solution is continuously frustrated, the multiplicity of twists surprise, and those surprises keep coming.

Reviewer: Jo Hesslewood
Other books by this author:  The Nightwalker, The Eye Collector, The Soul Breaker, The Child, Therapy  

Sebastian Fitzek was born 13 October 1971 in Berlin Germany. He is a writer and journalist. His first book Therapy was a bestseller in Germany in 2006, toppling The Da Vinci Code from the #1 position.


Jo Hesslewood.  Crime fiction has been my favourite reading material since as a teenager I first spotted Agatha Christie on the library bookshelves.  For twenty-five years the commute to and from London provided plenty of reading time.  I am fortunate to live in Cambridge, where my local crime fiction book club, Crimecrackers, meets at Heffers Bookshop.  I am a past secretary of the Margery Allingham Society and enjoy attending crime fiction events.  I was a member of the CWA Gold Dagger committee, a great experience.

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