Written by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.

RRP: £12.99
Released: January 25 2018

Chekhov’s famous pistol doesn’t appear in Act I of this remarkable thriller, but the firearm remains a constant nerve-wracking presence throughout this briskly told tale of stalking, revenge and secrets.

The first novel by German Journalist Dirk Kurbjuweit (to be translated into English), Fear is a doozie. A stark cover foreshadows a grim tale of vigilante justice administered with firepower – and that is exactly what we get.

Randolph Tiefenthaler has it all, a thriving architecture practise, intelligent wife Rebecca, cute kids Fay and Paul and a house with a basement flat. The spanner in this well-oiled machine comes in the form of tenant Dieter Tiberius, an overweight misfit who taunts and terrifies the picture-perfect family upstairs. Cue creepy poems and allegations of abuse (it seems that Tiberius is the kind of neighbour who will never become anyone’s good friend).

The tale of crime and punishment is presented in shifting timelines with the infamous pistol popping up again and again. The book weaves Tiefenthaler’s personal history from a Berlin childhood to the recent events that culminate in the shooting of Tiberius.

Kurbjuweit picks and prods at the architect’s seemingly idyllic middle-class Berlin existence. But with each pinprick, the frays in the cushioned existence become increasingly obvious.

Tiberius is the constant irritant and reminder that pretence can only go so far in the Instagram age. Though we know his fate from the outset, Tiberius’ creepiness annoys the reader as much as it does Rebecca and Randolph. The cops do their best but it just isn’t enough and the reader can’t help but root for the Tiefenthalers to take matters into their own hands.

The backdrop to the fictional creepiness is evocatively realised, but then again we know that Kurbjuweit (a prominent journalist and novelist in Germany), lived through a similar terrifying experience, involving a stalker.

Fictional stalker Dieter Tiberius is a figure of both ridicule and terror. An obese loner, he is unemployed but not at all stupid and poised at all times to ratchet up the menace and heighten the paranoia. Randolph, on the other hand displays an appetite and capacity to consume rich and expensive meals without gaining weight. He is a prominent professional who ambles easily along the corridors of the Tout Berlin. The parallels are gently drawn and believable; I salivated onto the pages about the Michelin-starred eateries.

But narrator Randolph does not have a perfect life. His personal history is dotted with familial dysfunction and tragic events and the sacrifice Randolph’s Father makes for his son and grandchildren is utterly believable.

The elements of satire are also lovely. Kurbjuweit’s digs at middle-class complacency, journalistic excess and hypocrisy in society are strategically placed so as not to detract from the really grim central plotline. Kudos are due to his translator as the writing is breezy and the sentences digestible, which is not always the case in the German language.

Structurally, Fear zigzags between past and present, and somehow it works well as a narrative device. The title is perfect in that the reader shivers just as the Tiefenthalers do. Though we know from the outset how the campaign of terror is going to end, we remain keen to follow this nice family (and they are indeed nice despite the flaws they carry) as they cast aside the shackles of everyday anxiety. 

Some of the twists are perhaps not as unexpected as Kurbjuweit might have wished, but that is really a minor quibble in a book that speaks so deftly of modern-day Germany, and the slow-drip torture that humans so often inflict upon their fellow human beings.

The pistol is there, and it gets used.

Fear is a novel to savour, and one to enjoy. 

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