Translated from German by Steve Anderson

Where was I? Needing to travel from Vietnam to Berlin in time for the start of the Edinburgh Book Festival this coming Saturday. (13.08.2021)(Berlin/Edinburgh? Be patient it will make sense, I promise.) Now it might not be the wisest move to jump on a plane for a long distance flight with Mats Krüger, the creation of Sebastian Fitzek, an author known for putting his characters through the mill …

*** Mild plot spoilers to follow ***

This is Krüger’s dilemma. 1) He is a psychologist, a specialist in phobias, with a phobia of his own. He is afraid of flying! 2) He is travelling from Buenos Aires to Berlin to reconnect, maybe even reconcile, with his estranged daughter Nele, who is about to give birth. 3) Once on board, he receives a phone call, ordering him to trigger a former patient of his into bringing down the plane. If he doesn’t his daughter and her child will die.

Because, on the ground, Nele has been kidnapped and is being held in an abandoned dairy farm by a maniac, who is filming her labour, in an attempt to prove how inhumane current dairy practices are.

*** End of spoilers ***

If that sounds preposterous, it’s because it is. I don’t read Fitzek for the plausibility of his plots, which are outrageous, but between the lines there are some thought-provoking issues, because Fitzek is well informed. Seat 7a explores the cruelty of dairy farming, and, following the 2015 Germanwings crash, the dilemma of ensuring the sanity and safety of all on board. I won’t explain the connection between Nele’s kidnap and the blackmailing of Krüger. Suffice to say, Krüger is not the only one being played.

Is Fitzek’s plot feasible? No. Is it entertaining? Yes, particularly watching a psychologist go rogue as he tries to buy time by breaking every medical ethic in the book.

However, it is also tasteless in parts. I found the case history of the stewardess to be triggered unnecessarily graphic, and I did not enjoy the Nele thread. One traumatic labour – my own – is (more than) enough for me. Neither could I make the unbelievable circumstances of Nele’s giving birth believable.

I will say this though. I’ve not been put off flying. The plot is simply too extreme, and yet, the author delivers an unexpected and extraordinarily sensitive ending. Perhaps I may venture to suggest that he has no need for such overwrought plotting, but then again, his psychothrillers have sold millions. If it ain’t broken, why fix it?