The accepted wisdom is that you need to hook a reader with the first few lines of your book. Damien Seaman grabs you by the throat and drags you into a Weimar whorehouse where a detective is desecrating a prostitute’s corpse.
Consider me hooked.
The Killing of Emma Gross could easily have been another by-the-numbers serial killer novel, all the elements are there; picturesque victims, sexual sadism, an investigation marred by personal rivalries. What lifts it above the norm is Seaman’s impeccable research into the ‘Vampire of Düsseldorf’ case, which it takes its basic plot from, and more importantly, his good judgement on how much of it show on the page.
Seaman has a light touch and a keen eye for period detail, but never gets mired in the history. So we get an evocative portrayal of Weimar Düsseldorf, schlepping from pavement cafes to insane asylums, via tenement blocks and jazz clubs and ‘cum cabins’, in a series of fabulous set-pieces sure to be unpopular with the city’s tourist board.
Detective Thomas Klein is a spiky character, tough but sentimental, carrying his own payload of demons – a bit of a wichser in places, but the best detectives, fictional and otherwise, always are.
Seaman’s writing is brisk and efficient, unashamedly noir in tone. This is a dark book afterall, dealing with some contentious subjects under the cover of a police procedural, and featuring a genuinely disturbing serial killer in Peter Kürten.
The Killing of Emma Gross is an assured debut which really marks Damien Seaman out as one to watch.
The Killing of Emma Gross by Damien Seaman, available now from Blasted Heath