When I thought up the summer reading challenge Around Europe in 14 Books back in March, I had already found most of the books I wanted to read. It was easy thanks to the suggestions on Amazon. I was also recommended a book or two while I picked others because I already owned a copy. I finalised my TBR list by the end of June, however, I still made a couple of changes in due course.
In fact, for my 10th literary destination – Germany – I suddenly changed book. I was going to read a thriller which I had purchased a couple of years ago, but last week I received a birthday gift from my dear friend Myna Kaltschnee. It’s The Eye Collector, a thriller by Sebastian Fitzek. This is the second Fitzek novel she gave me, after The Child, which I really really loved. So, you see, I had to change my plan and include Fitzek in my reading challenge, I just couldn’t wait to read him again!
Read the previous posts:
Around Europe in 14 Books – #10: Germany
The Eye Collector by Sebastian Fitzek
Original name: Der Augensammler (German)
Author: Sebastian Fitzek
Translator: John Brownjohn
Series: Der Augensammler #1
Genre: thriller, crime
Location: Berlin, Germany
My rating: 4/4.5 out of 5 stars
He plays the oldest children’s game in the world, hide and seek. Only the Eye Collector plays it to death.
It’s the same each time. A woman’s body is found with a ticking stopwatch clutched in her dead hand. A distraught father must find his child before the boy suffocates – and the killer takes his left eye.
Alexander Zorbach, a washed-up cop turned journalist has reported all three of the Eye Collector’s murders. But this is different. His wallet has been found next to the corpse and now he’s a suspect. The Eye Collector wants Zorbach to play.
Zorbach has exactly forty-five hours, seven minutes to save a little boy’s life. And the countdown has started…
The Eye Collector is a psychological crime thriller in which a murderer-cum-kidnapper is on the loose in Berlin, committing shocking crimes. Unlike other crime novels of this kind, the protagonist is not an investigator or part of the police force. He is Alexander Zorbach, an ex-cop who turned to crime journalism after a traumatic incident on his job.
Zorbach has built up a reputation as a crime journalist, especially since he started following the case of the serial murderer and child kidnapper nicknamed the Eye Collector. This nickname, attributed by the sensationalistic media as is always the case, comes from a particular gruesome detail of his modus operandi. The kidnapped children are always found dead with their left eye missing, after forty-five hours and seven minutes from their kidnapping and from the murder of their mother.
One day, after he overhears a police radio conversation, Zorbach reaches the latest crime scene with his trainee Frank. Beyond the police cordon, another murdered mother is sprawled in her garden. This time, though, it’s a set of twins that are kidnapped. The horror has just become bigger, but what Zorbach doesn’t expect is to be implicated in this crime, after his wallet is found at the crime scene. Suddenly, he becomes the prime suspect and instead of chasing information for his reportage, Alex Zorbach has to run away.
Things get even more complicated and dangerous when he comes face to face with Alina Gregoriev, a physiotherapist who says that she has met the Eye Collector. Too bad that this woman is blind and says that she can see in the past when she touches another person. Who could ever believe that? Even Zorbach finds it hard to do so and yet, he needs to act on what Alina tells him. His primary objective now is to save the kidnapped children before the end of the deadline and to absolve himself from any suspicion. He thus initiates the game with the murderer.
This novel ticks every point in the ‘how a thriller should be written’ list. It’s fast-paced, with chapters that vary in length but are never too long. The author wastes no time in lengthy descriptions, he goes straight to the point after building the atmosphere. Every chapter reveals something new and ends with a surprise or a twist that obliges you to turn the page and start a new chapter straight away. It’s an exciting page-turner that makes it hard to put down. It’s thrilling, as it should be.
The story is told from different points of view. The main POV is always Zorbach’s. He’s the one who opens the narrative by warning the readers not to read further. So it’s a story told retrospectively. Other points of view include those of Frank, Alina, Stoya (an ex-colleague of Zorbach who’s investigating the crimes) and one of the kidnapped kids, Toby. This ingenious manner of telling the story uncovers interesting details to give a clearer overall picture without telling too much. I have to say that I didn’t like all points of view. Stoya was interesting from the investigative point of view but not as exciting to read. I couldn’t even get completely into the enigmatic Alina, perhaps because I had many doubts about her. Zorbach’s point of view was clearly the most compelling and naturally, most of the chapters followed him since he’s the protagonist.
Another interesting feature of this novel is the reverse numbering of the chapters. When I opened the book and saw that it started with the epilogue, I got a shock. Was the story going to be told in reverse? Not exactly. The story is linear but the descending number of chapters are in line with the Eye Collector’s deadline. In the last couple of chapters, the reverse numbering makes even more sense as it shows that the horror is never-ending.
I would love to go more into detail about this book but I cannot do it without spoilers. So I’ll just say this: I had a hunch about who the antagonist might be while still in the first quarter of the book. Just a hypothesis based on the few other crime novels that I have read. Usually, that kills the book and the enthusiasm that it should bring while reading. And yet, Fitzek’s storytelling is full of twists and the book’s makeup, with its different points of view, is enough to distract and confuse the reader. Soon, I abandoned my hypothesis as I was overwhelmed by the amount of info and surprises I was receiving, only to slap my forehead in shock and amusement by the last chapter when I discovered that I had been right.
Therefore, I do not consider it as a failure, just a lucky guess from my overthinking mind. The way the story has unfolded has preserved my excitement and saved the day. But perhaps it was this that made me rate The Eye Collector a tiny bit lower than the 5-star The Child, together with the less-interesting points of views that have slowed my reading a tiny bit. It’s just a sensation based on my personal experience, though.
I still believe that The Eye Collector is a great crime and psychological thriller that wholly deserves to be called so, for it’s a classic page-turner. Sebastian Fitzek has written a sequel with Alina Gregoriev which hasn’t been translated into English yet but, given that the latest Fitzek English translation has been released just two months ago, I’m hopeful to see the sequel and more of Fitzek’s work in English. In the meantime, I heartily encourage lovers of crime thrillers to try out this book, as well as The Child. Fitzek deserves to be read worldwide.