Reviewed by Ian Lipke
He gave a light shrug. “Why not? It’s what they deserved. They were nothing but cockroaches. All we did was clean out the kitchen.”
In such a manner does Lone Theils introduce her readers to a Rwandan mass murderer and through him to Nora Sand, an investigative journalist with the Danish publication Globalt. Having written her piece on Rwanda, Sand is struck by the sight of a battered suitcase in the window of a trash dealer’s shop and a new adventure begins.
Most readers in Australia would not be familiar with the writings of Lone Theils. A former London based correspondent for national Danish papers Berlingske Tidende and Politiken, Theils is better known in Europe on television and radio networks, where she worked for sixteen years. She now lives in Denmark where she is directing her energies into writing full time.
Fatal Crossing is Theils’ first novel. It is a commendable effort based on a simple catalyst that triggers an event, which in turn sets off another, and another, as the novel develops. The reader is taken from the finding of the suitcase to a photograph of two missing girls, whose disappearance had already attracted the interest of the reporter Sand, and from there through various pathways to a gloomy prison and an even more formidable mass murderer. The solution to the whereabouts of the girls is achieved through Sand’s incredible focus on a dim trail through several police forces and with the grudging assistance of Scotland Yard in particular. Running parallel with the investigation and, at times, intersecting it is Sand’s conflicted romance with Andreas, a difficult man.
When reading this novel it soon becomes apparent that the plot is stitched together seamlessly as a series of snapshots. It feels like the script of a television drama. The content is episodic. The sense most commonly used is the visual and that is employed with a well versed hand. There is an unfortunate consequence to this reliance. The author does a lot of telling that other senses might have opened up to showing or feeling. On page 122 the author tells us:
And yet she couldn’t help smiling as he remembered Polly from The Oysterman who had asked Mr Spencer about his possible kinship to Princess Diana. The man’s skin was the colour of milky coffee and his hair an Afro rarely seen in the British aristocracy. He was in shirtsleeves, but his suit jacket was hanging over a chair, and on the wall behind him were the pictures of the twelve girls from the suitcase.
Two tables had been pushed together into an L-shape, and Spencer was flanked by a blond woman in her twenties…and a man called Stuart Millhouse.
It’s a setting for a television scene and it relies on telling the reader what is going on. Unfortunately, this approach is common throughout the novel and takes the gloss off what is really a very good story. It is understandable that the novel is composed in this way in a first novel, given the background of the writer.
A powerful feature of this book is the way that Theils introduces her players and keeps them in character throughout the book. The outstanding example is the introduction of Sand’s editor Oscar Krebs.
Among his staff he was known as the Crayfish because of his knack for spotting weaknesses in a story and snipping away at it with his claws until it fell apart or the journalist came back with more convincing research. Or so he said. Others at the magazine claimed the name matched the colour of his face when he was stressed. Nora…was thoroughly fed up with the Crayfish’s chronic inability to grasp the concept of Greenwich Mean Time (5).
She goes on to tell us about his shortcomings. Throughout a picture of the man emerges from the visual clues the author provides. We will forever wonder how rich the novel might have been if the other senses were allowed to contribute.
Even so, the story is hard to put down. It is exciting, frightening in the prison and subsequent scenes, overt in its modelling of The Silence of the Lambs scenario, and frustrating when Nora Sand’s on-again, off-again romance with Andreas occupies the pages.
This book is a fine beginning for an up-and-coming talented writer. Keep an eye out for her subsequent novels.
By Lone Theils
Bonnier Publishing Australia