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by Craig Russell
Hutchinson, August 2009
416 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 0091921449

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Three teenage women are trained as brilliant, ruthless assassins by the Stasi in East Germany in the 1980's. Following the collapse of East Germany all records of them are destroyed and they vanish. In Hamburg in the 1990's there are a series of killings by a female who becomes known as The Angel. Then in 2008 an English pop star is murdered in Hamburg's red-light district by a woman who claims that she is The Angel. Gradually Jan Fabel of the Hamburg police starts to stitch together the truth and to link a series of deaths - a Serbian gangster, a Norwegian journalist, a Danish policeman - to the fact that at least one of the assassins, known as Valkyrie, is still operating, albeit as a private, free market operative rather than an agent of the East German state. The hunt for the killer brings him perilously close to a ruthless and brilliant killing machine.

It is to be hoped that the foregoing plot description will have managed to convey the fact that this book is complete tosh. Now I quickly emphasise that there is nothing wrong with that in itself; many good books within the mystery genre are complete tosh and all the better for it. The problem lies when tosh takes itself too seriously and ceases to be an enjoyable romp. I am honestly not sure whether THE VALKYRIE SONG does fall into this trap. Certainly Russell keeps the narrative bouncing along at a highly enjoyable and engrossing pace. If things show any sign of flagging he throws in a bit of action or a slight plot twist to keep the reader engaged. In terms of technical narrative skill this is a pretty good book. One has the feeling of being in the hands of someone who is highly proficient in crafting a story and that is no small commendation.

But I have this nagging suspicion that maybe it is all being taken a bit too seriously. Fabel himself is supposed to be a top policemen to whom others look to for guidance but in fact appears, if anything, somewhat obtuse. He has some problems in his relationships with women, a recurrent theme in the book, but these are hardly very interesting. Russell obviously knows Hamburg well and there are some interesting historical and sociological facts about the Hanseatic league and the relationship between various parts of the Baltic hinterland. The problem is that this sits uneasily with the generally fantastic nature of the central plot and the characters at its centre.

THE VALKYRIE SONG is highly readable and at one level very enjoyable; as tosh it is certainly superior tosh and if it can be read as such will provide some solid enjoyment. When it starts to take itself too seriously however then it is in danger of becoming irksome and the massive disconnection from reality becomes speedily apparent. But suspend your judgement and critical facilities and you are guaranteed an absorbing few hours.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, February 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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