Book Review: The Package by Sebastian Fitzek
By John ValeriMarch 5, 2021
The Package by Sebastian Fitzek, translated from its original German by Jamie Bulloch, follows the story of a woman traumatized by a serial killer who inexplicably allowed her to survive only to set off a descent into paranoia that threatens to unravel her entire life.
Sebastian Fitzek may not be a household name in America (yet), but there’s no denying his popularity in his native Germany where he is largely considered the country’s most successful author of psychological thrillers. With more than 13 million copies sold, his books have also been translated into more than 24 languages, received numerous accolades, and served as the source material for both film and theatre adaptations. His 2016 release, the highly acclaimed Das Paket, was recently published in America under the title The Package, as translated by Jamie Bulloch.
As the story opens, readers are introduced to Dr. Emma Stein, who has been invited to speak at The German Association of Psychiatry’s annual conference in Berlin. Rather than commuting home following her presentation, she opts to stay overnight and enjoy the hotel accommodations offered to participants. This turns out to be a fateful decision, as she is raped and shorn of her hair overnight and, ultimately, suffers a miscarriage. The attack bears the MO of an infamous serial killer known as “The Hairdresser,” who takes his victims’ hair as trophies, the one difference on this occasion being that Emma inexplicably survived.
In the aftermath of this trauma, Emma—fearful of reprisal and demoralized by the skepticism with which her allegations have been met—quits her job at the local hospital and becomes a shut-in, seldom seeing anybody beyond her husband, Philipp (a law enforcement officer); her best friend, Sylvia; her friend/lawyer, Konrad; and her loyal canine companion, Samson. Then, an affable delivery man named Salim asks her to hold onto a package meant for a neighbor that he is unable to deliver; despite her extreme anxiety at the prospect, she acquiesces. It’s at the transference of this package—addressed to a name she doesn’t recognize, which perpetuates her paranoia—that things descend into madness.
Fitzek writes in the third-person, which allows for more storytelling liberties than first-person narration would have. While there is certainly an intimate connection between Emma and the reader, who can’t help but sympathize regardless of whether her fears are founded or fantastical, there is also enough separation to allow for a subjective analysis of the situation. What makes this construct even more powerful is that Emma, by virtue of her training and profession, is keenly aware of how irrational her thoughts and behaviors appear to others—and yet, she can’t extinguish them because she believes the underlying cause(s) to be legitimate. Consequently, a disturbing question emerges: can Emma trust her intimates if they don’t trust her?
The Package will be many American readers’ first introduction to the author’s work (although it’s not the only English translation of his books available), and it certainly serves as a memorable entry point. The premise is seemingly simple yet surprisingly sinister, and questionable characters, plot twists, and red herrings abound, all culminating in one incontrovertible fact: Sebastian Fitzek is a master of mind games. He has arrived, my friends—and there’s no return delivery.