CRIME AND DERANGEMENT

Sunday Times - - Review - Wil­liam Saun­der­son-Meyer @TheJaun­dicedEye

Fear ★★★★ Dirk Kur­b­juweit, Orion, R275

The theme is as old as the psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller. An or­di­nary man com­mits what he per­suades him­self to be a ra­tio­nal, mo­rally jus­ti­fied killing and gets away with it. After­wards, he is wracked with an­guish, re­morse and a need for re­pen­tance, con­fes­sion and pun­ish­ment. Think of Dos­toyevsky’s Crime and Pun­ish­ment. Then fast for­ward 150 years and turn Dos­toyevsky’s im­pov­er­ished St Petersburg stu­dent into a mid­dle-class Ber­lin ar­chi­tect, and there you have the ba­sics of Dirk Kur­b­juweit’s Fear.

Ran­dolph Tiefen­thaler, his beau­ti­ful wife, Re­becca, and their son and daugh­ter live in a large sub­ur­ban house con­verted into a few apart­ments. This is the quin­tes­sen­tial ex­is­tence of the suc­cess­ful pro­fes­sional: fine food, fine wine and fine friends to com­ple­ment the ideal fam­ily.

The snake in par­adise comes in the form of Di­eter Tiberius, who rents the base­ment flat. Ini­tially, they have a pleas­ant, nod­ding ac­quain­tance, but soon Tiberius starts mak­ing las­civ­i­ous com­ments about Re­becca and writes her love let­ters. His ac­tions es­ca­late and he falsely re­ports the par­ents to the po­lice and so­cial ser­vices for abus­ing and mo­lest­ing their chil­dren.

The so­ci­etal sup­ports that the bour­geoisie take as a given fail the fam­ily; the po­lice and lawyers can do lit­tle.

The al­le­ga­tions are per­sis­tent and in­sid­i­ous, un­der­min­ing fam­ily co­he­sion. Though they ra­tio­nally know it to be ab­surd, in the minds of both Ran­dolph and Re­becca there spring seeds of doubt. Could their spouse just pos­si­bly be do­ing some­thing vile?

We al­ready know how this ends. Fear opens with the in­car­cer­a­tion of Her­man — Ran­dolph’s fa­ther, a life­long firearm en­thu­si­ast — for killing Tiberius with a bul­let to the head. But as in Crime and Pun­ish­ment, the book is not a who­dunit but a why­dunit. A clever ex­po­si­tion of how vi­o­lence lurks just be­low the ve­neer of even ap­par­ently the most civilised, in­tel­lec­tu­ally so­phis­ti­cated per­son.

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