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.
My, oh my, this guy is wonderfully wicked. Koppel brings you in to the seemingly banal and charming life of Anna, an editor at a Woman’s Own style magazine in Sweden. Her story starts with the usual workaday stuff – getting the kid to school and herself to work, drinking coffee, discussing a colleague’s adulterous ways with her husband, the kindly Magnus.
Within just a few pages, we know this woman is yearning for more than the middle-class comfort she has grown accustomed to. Sadly for her, the way she scratches the itch is by embarking on an affair with a man she meets while away at a work conference. Erik Mansson is smart, young, handsome, perfect material, in Anna’s mind for a quickie fling.
Quickie has nothing to do with what Erik has in mind, however. Each time Anna tries to dump him, he pushes her harder into committing to him. His advances become more and more puerile and needy and the more he begs, the more Anna wants to pull away. In her mind, Erik is struck with puppy love and just needs to find a single playmate closer to his own age.
The reader knows something Anna doesn’t. In the first chapter, a character named Erik is caught in a nasty psycho-sexual game with a woman who seems to be his own mother. The game, suffice it to say, does not end well.
Back to Anna her story rushes headlong towards a seemingly inevitable ugly end, as well. Erik plots, manipulates, cajoles and lies to keep her close jeopardizing Anna’s job, marriage and sanity. The police get involved their efforts to end the nastiness prove febrile. None of Anna’s friends understands the horror of Erik’s stalking and she cannot of course tell Magnus what she got up to at the infamous conference. So she decides to take matters into her hands.
It would be unfair to Koppel (a pseudonym) to reveal how much turmoil Erik causes poor old Anna and those close to her but trust us, it is horrid. The tale is not just from her perspective, though. The great strength of the writing lies in the way Koppel has us racing along two parallel tracks – Anna’s flight from increasingly bonkers Erik and Erik’s marathon to first reach closeness and then to exact revenge for Anna’s cold shouldering.
The finale is possibly not quite as scary as the yellow ribbon across the cover suggests (The most terrifying crime novel you will ever read!). It is pretty damn terrifying, though, and the logical conclusion to all that has gone before. Definitely one that will cause readers to miss their bus stop or burn the roast.
More important, the story illustrates beautifully how ennui and complacency can lead even intelligent people to do stupidly dangerous things. There is a line early on said by Anna’s mother Katherine. “Suburbia sucks the life out of lots of people.” As we come to the end of the tale, it is clear Anna’s small attempt to get over her suburban blahs is what leads to death and destruction.
This is not a facile morality play, though – it is a beautifully written (and translated by Kari Dickson) thriller and a good reminder about watching what one wishes for.
I am looking forward to the next Koppel chiller and as I read it will keep an eye out for missing my stops on the bus that carries me along to conduct my mundane suburban life.