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by Craig Russell
Hutchinson, June 2011
352 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 0091921465

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Hamburg is about to play host to a major environmental summit when the city is hit by a massive storm. Many items of flotsam are thrown up by the flood waters, but the worst by far is the headless torso of a woman. Jan Fabel of the Murder Commission is initially concerned that this might be the work of a serial rapist and murderer who identifies his victims through the use of social networking sites on the internet and then dumps their bodies in the city's waterways.

However, in a world where personal interactions are made increasingly more complex through the medium of cyber-worlds where people are free to create the characters they want to be and then live online through those personas, nothing is quite what it seems on any level. Fabel's investigations lead him in the direction of an environmental organization known as Pharos, which exhibits worrying symptoms of a possible cult. Then Fabel's car is forced into the dark waters of the river with him inside and everything suddenly becomes very personal indeed.

I spent a lot of this book trying to decide whether I was reading a police procedural or a thriller, but finally came to the conclusion that the answer didn't matter all that much. Despite elements that I found hard to take seriously - Doomsday cults are always far more chilling in reality than in books A FEAR OF DARK WATER is an entertaining read, particularly when Russell is describing the online world of Virtual Dimension, presumably modelled on such virtual playgrounds as the hugely popular Second Life. The characters in the book veer wildly from the shadowy and somewhat cartoonish Wiegand, front-man for reclusive, crippled billionaire Dominick Korn, whose deep sea accident forms the book's prologue, to the far more interesting Roman Kraxner, a hugely fat computer hacker who uses Virtual Dimension as an escape from his physical problems.

At its best, the book demonstrates a sharp and interesting take on contemporary preoccupations such as environmental issues and virtual realities but there are some implausible elements in the mix that take it dangerously close to the territory of pulp thrillers. In future, I think I'd prefer to see a return to more solid police work for Fabel rather than something that at times manages to be neither fish nor foul.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, August 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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