Fear, by Dirk Kurbjuweit, is a story of a murder and a marriage and of how far a man will go to protect the foundations on which he has constructed his adult life. Set in Berlin, the protagonist is Randolph Tiefenthaler, an architect living with his beautiful and intelligent wife, Rebecca, and their two young children. Their nightmare starts when they purchase a well located and spacious upper ground floor flat, perfect for family living. Randolph is now sitting at his desk writing an account of events that led to his seventy-eight year old father being imprisoned for manslaughter. Randolph’s father confessed to killing Dieter Tiberius, the tenant of the flat downstairs.
Based on true events, the author has created a thriller that questions how fragile the edifices of civilised life can be, and of the pressures a man feels to be a protector. Soon after moving into their flat, Rebecca starts to receive letters from Dieter. He is watching the family, listening to their movements from below. When the letters become threatening Randolph takes the matter to the police only to discover that no crime has been committed. Dieter’s reaction is to accuse his neighbours of sexually abusing their children.
Randolph writes of his childhood and of the disconnect and fear he felt due to his father’s gun obsession. He is determined to do better with his own children but has allowed his marriage to grow stale. As Dieter’s behaviour escalates Randolph and Rebecca are drawn back together. Their middle class confidence, bordering on arrogance, is pierced as they realise reasonable tactics to resolve the matter are ineffective. If Randolph is to keep his family safe he must consider more radical action.
The voice and behaviour of the narrator come across and honest and reasoned. He is writing to confront the truth which he tells the reader he has not yet fully shared, even with Rebecca. I found it harder to empathise with her. Rebecca had hysterical screaming fits even when her children were at home. For a medical professional this loss of control under pressure seemed strange.
The story though revolves around Randolph, the impotence he feels and the growing realisation that he will need to compromise his valued integrity to deal with Dieter. Despite knowing from the first few pages how things will end, the tension in the telling is skilfully maintained.
Events force Randolph to confront an aspect of himself that he had denied existed. I am curious about how he would cope with that in the afterwards. The child abuse allegation also puts thoughts in his head that he struggles to contain. In attempting to prove innocence his behaviour is affected, as is his confidence in Rebecca.
Each of these strands offer food for thought but it is the basic premise that is the most disturbing. In a civilised society it is assumed that wrong-doers will be punished, the innocent protected. How to define wrong-doing and innocence are perhaps more complex than is generally accepted.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orion.