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Fear: The gripping thriller that has everyone talking Hardcover – 25 Jan 2018
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Praise for FEAR, the most original thriller of 2018 for fans of THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW by A.J. Finn, LULLABY by Leila Slimani and ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL by Sarah Vaughan:
A terrific, original thriller, and a marvellous exploration of the psychology of menace - I loved it
Five stars - as intellectually stimulating as it is gripping (Jake Kerridge DAILY TELEGRAPH)
Wonderfully sinister. . . You'll never see your neighbours in the same light again (THE OBSERVER)
Beautifully written, frightening and absorbing (THE TIMES)
Something we've not seen before in contemporary crime fiction (GUARDIAN)
Kurbjuweit takes you right into the heart of darkness (MAIL ON SUNDAY)
I'm intrigued by Dirk Kurbjuweit's novel FEAR, about a stalker living downstairs (LIONEL SHRIVER, Observer's Best Holiday Reads 2017)
If you liked WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, try FEAR by Dirk Kurbjuweit... Claustrophobic and unsettling (BBC NEWS)
[An] uncomfortably close-to-home thriller... A powerfully disturbing read (SUNDAY TIMES CRIME CLUB)
Its layers of paranoia and memories are brilliantly done to play on every parents' deepest fears - including mine (FIONA BARTON, bestselling author of THE WIDOW)
The most original psychological thriller of 2018, for fans of THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. How do you protect your family when the law's not on your side?See all Product description
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I read around a dozen psychological thrillers last year and while I enjoyed them, they have all merged into one when I try to remember them. This novel has more more distinct voice and I enjoyed the unusual setting. I would happily recommend it.
The book has been translated from German and has an unmistakable precise, clipped, Germanic feel. It is also compared with We Need To Talk About Kevin and I can see some similarities, but this is not so depressing.
This is one of those stories that starts at the end, we know what the outcome is. In this case, we are told in the first chapter that Randolph's father has been sentenced to imprisonment, at the age of seventy-seven, for shooting in the forehead at point blank range, Randolph's basement neighbour, Dieter Tiberius.
The story then goes back and forth in time from when Randolph and his family first moved in to their apartment above Dieter, and back further to give us a view of Randolph's childhood with a father he was scared of who 'collected' guns and was a master marksman.
At first, Randolph, Rebecca and their two children, have a good relationship with Dieter. Dieter bakes cakes and biscuits and even leaves plates of them on their doorstep. All goes well until the day Rebecca meets Dieter in the laundry room and he makes a lewd comment about her underwear. Then the accusations start that he hears them sexually abusing their children. Randolph needs to clear their name before social services are called in to remove their children.
Much of the book, although there are many facets to the story and characters, is of Randolph's struggle with the brick wall legal system in trying to prove their innocence and that Dieter Tiberius' is guilty of slanderous assaults on them.
I really enjoyed the book. The characters are well developed and interesting to read about. There is an element of tension with the promise of doom running all the way through – this can't possibly end well. This is a realistic, sophisticated and grown-up version of the usual psychological thriller.
The main character, Randolph, is our narrator and he has decided to write down what happened to him and why his father is now in prison for manslaughter at the age of 77. We are told from the outset that his father committed the crime and that neither he, nor his father, has anything to hide or feel any regret for the what happened. Because the narrator is so upfront and honest about what has happened, this novel is a 'why dunnit' rather than a 'who dunnit' and let's face it, these are often the more chilling and unnerving stories; they are often the more haunting and fascinating.
Randolph's narrative is dense and detailed. He talks about what happens to his family while they are living in the flat and the unpleasant, unkind and then deeply unsettling things that the tenant who lives in the apartment beneath them does, but there is also plenty of time spent reflecting on Randolph's childhood. Even his recount of the present day is not rushed. For a tale about stalkers and crime, this is not a typical edge of your seat, fast paced read. But it is gripping.
Our protagonist is reserved in character. He is reluctant to confront, intervene and take action - his wife is more feisty and he mentions the word 'screaming' alongside her name frequently so maybe the narrative style matches his personality. Perhaps also, it reflects the way situations can slowly build up and suddenly become problematic, how events can accumulate and behaviour or comments that can be ignored or explained away, suddenly build into something much more sinister and becomes too big to stop. Perhaps also it keeps the reader a little removed from the intensity of what Randolph and his wife have to endure. The way they are plagued, hounded and tortured is terrible- and the (false) insinuations of child abuse are particularly upsetting and highly emotive, so maybe this narrative style prevents the reader from finding the story too overwhelming. Maybe the fact that we hear the story from the husband, rather than Rebecca who sees this tenant daily and is the main focus of his attention, helps to put the reader another step away from the fear and threat. It's an interesting perspective to choose. This would have been a very different story had it been narrated by Rebecca, but this is also what makes this novel stand out.
Fear is a quick read because it is as if we are reading diary entries. It is easy to relate to Randolph because of his first person voice, intimacy and honesty. He admits his failings, his flaws, his inadequacies and this makes it easier to forgive him for his apathy at certain points in the novel. He admits feelings that he knows are wrong, he identifies weaknesses within his marriage that others would want to ignore and he lays the moral and emotional framework on which he was raised out for scrutiny. It's interesting to focus on the psychology of the victim as much as the perpetrator.
This is still a compelling read because it is about stalking, about a family who are terrorised and a couple who find themselves pushed to breaking point and placed under more and more pressure in this style. The pace is slow and measured with time for deviation and back story, interlude and time lapse. This adds realism to the story and reminds the reader that these events take place over a period of time and therefore it is more realistic than melodramatic.
Fear was not what I expected, but I did feel the character's voice was strong and easy to relate to. The comments and observations about Berlin in the 60s were really interesting and the observations about marriage also honest, realistic and adding further complication, depth and interest to the characters and the situation.
I think this book might receive a mixed reaction but it was engaging and I was hooked until the end. It raises broader questions and touches on broader issues than might be expected from a story about a deranged neighbour. The use of a kind of diary entry rather than dialogue and action was effective and original. I think this might be a book which lingers with me. There were some very vivid scenes and provocative questions raised, the dynamics between the characters were fascinating and there is probably much to discuss if this was a book club read.
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