The Distance by Helen Giltrow
Charlotte Alton has put her old life behind her. The life where she bought and sold information, unearthing secrets buried too deep for anyone else to find, or fabricating new identities for people who need their histories erased.
But now she has been offered one more job. To get a hit-man in to an experimental new prison and take out someone who according to the records isn’t there at all.
It’s impossible. A suicide mission. And quite possibly a set-up.
So why can’t she say no?
Utterly brilliant. Ok, you want me to say more.
This is a book about a hit man and the woman who sent him in to kill the mark. So two bad guys in effect. Yet Giltrow somehow managed to have me caring about both of them and not just caring about them, but rooting for them.
When Alton is offered the job to get Johanssen into the experimental prison she takes it and she finds a way to get him in. But she’s good at her job and she doesn’t like risk. She likes to know what she’s doing and she wants to keep everyone safe. This job is the complete opposite of all that and she doesn’t like it so she starts to investigate it even as it’s started.
The story is told in alternative chapters between Alton and Johanssen who is inside the prison – which isn’t a prison as you may be imagining, but I don’t want to give too much away. It is a tough and violent place though.
Johanssen finds his ‘mark’ and has three weeks to get close enough to her (yes she’s a female), to find a place within the walls of the prison to execute the kill and get out safely. He manages to get close and spend a lot of time with her, and this is where we learn a lot about both her and him.
And in the mean time, on the outside, we are learning about why someone wants her dead and why she doesn’t appear on the prison records.
It’s an extremely well executed novel, weaving a complicated storyline involving a lot of moving parts, multiple characters and locations with utter ease. The narrative voice has an edge to it. We are talking about the world of contract killings though. And if you didn’t know it was written by a female author, you would potentially consider it having been written by a male hand.. Which gives rise to the debate whether women can write crime fiction well and this book just goes to prove that they can and they can write it in a tone that is required for the book. I’m not saying it’s all hard-edged and sharp, because I kind of had a bit of a thing for the bad boy in this, Johanssen. Yes, I know, he’s a contract killer! See, very confusing and excellent writing!
The ending will have you holding your breath and whipping those pages past at speed. So be warned. You may get paper cuts.
For the first book of the year, this is one to remember.
I’d like to thank the author for my copy of this.