Title: The Distance
Author: Helen Giltrow
No. of Pages: 368
Origins: Random House
Release Date: 9 September 2014
Bottom Line: Intense, terrifying, and thought-provoking
“Charlotte Alton is an elegant socialite. But behind the locked doors of her sleek, high-security apartment in London’s Docklands, she becomes Karla. Karla’s business is information. Specifically, making it disappear. She’s the unseen figure who, for a commanding price, will cover a criminal’s tracks. A perfectionist, she’s only made one slip in her career—several years ago she revealed her face to a man named Simon Johanssen, an ex-special forces sniper turned killer-for-hire. After a mob hit went horrifically wrong, Johanssen needed to disappear, and Karla helped him. He became a regular client, and then, one day, she stepped out of the shadows for reasons unclear to even herself. Now, after a long absence, Johanssen has resurfaced with a job, and he needs Karla’s help again. The job is to take out an inmate—a woman—inside an experimental prison colony. But there’s no record the target ever existed. That’s not the only problem: the criminal boss from whom Johanssen has been hiding is incarcerated there. That doesn’t stop him. It’s Karla’s job to get him out alive, and to do that she must uncover the truth. Who is this woman? Who wants her dead? Is the job a trap for Johanssen or for her? But every door she opens is a false one, and she’s getting desperate to protect a man—a killer—to whom she’s inexplicably drawn. Written in stylish, sophisticated prose, The Distance is a tense and satisfying debut in which every character, both criminal and law-abiding, wears two faces, and everyone is playing a double game.”
Thoughts: There is no doubt The Distance is a thriller. It is intense, exciting, and fast-paced. However, none of the action is explicit. Instead, Ms. Giltrow capitalizes on the phenomenon that a reader can typically imagine more horrific scenes than anything an author might put onto paper and deliberately keeps certain scenes ambiguous. In a world as dangerous as the one in which Karla does business, the end result is that those scenes are truly horrifying in spite of a lack of details.
Ms. Giltrow does not just deliberately obscure scenes that include bodily harm. Karla’s world is also shadowy. There is a definitive lack of specifics about Karla’s life that can be quite distracting as it lends itself to allowing readers to focus on trying to fill all of the missing gaps of Karla’s world. However, to do so means missing a fantastic story of intrigue, secrets, bad men, false trails, misdirections, and so much more. The reader is set down into Karla’s and Simon’s worlds with no preparation or warning and must maneuver their way through its dangers as well as its secrets. This creates an intimacy between the reader and Karla and Simon that one doesn’t expect but which makes the story so much more suspenseful.
One of the main themes explored throughout The Distance is the idea of guilt. Simon’s resignation to his fate inside the experimental prison colony underscores his personal feelings about the main crime for which he went into hiding. He may be a contracted killer, but he is seeking atonement for his first crime. does his occupation automatically make him a bad guy? Similarly, Karla uses information to blackmail and manipulate others and does so without compunction. Who is the worse criminal? Readers must decide for themselves, but it does make for an interesting ethical discussion.
The Distance is an excellent example of a spy thriller set in the computer age. The ease with which Karla obtains her information and manipulates situations for her benefit is truly frightening. American readers will also find the level of surveillance of British citizens equally disturbing. Simon’s experiences within the prison colony test the limits of human endurance and showcase mankind’s brutality. The story gains much from its very plausibility and the understated method of storytelling Ms. Giltrow adopts. The Distance is definitely an intense read and one that works well for a winter afternoon.