26 Feb, 2015
Helen Giltrow’s writing in The Distance is clinical, no fat, cut-to-the-bone brilliance that will have readers on the edge of their seats from first to last, wondering what will happen next, how and why.
They don't call her Karla anymore. She's Charlotte Alton: she doesn't trade in secrets, she doesn't erase dark pasts, and she doesn't break hit-men into prison. Except that is exactly what she's been asked to do. The job is impossible: get the assassin into an experimental new prison so that he can take out a target who isn't officially there. It's a suicide mission, and quite probably a set-up. So, why is it she can't say no?
The perpetual question being asked is “why?” and what Giltrow manages to sustain through her magical story-telling ability is imbue a pace into proceedings that is astonishing, particularly during those passages – which are few – in which little appears to happening.
Another fine asset to Giltrow’s prose is the manner in which she allows relationships and events to develop at their own rate, never rushing something that can be built to a revelatory climax that is at once as satisfying as it is exciting.
With Karla / Charlotte, the author has created a cool, level-headed protagonist ably assisted by her polar opposite, Johannsen, who is probably the last person you would like to be trapped in a lift with, although the first to be on your side when danger pops round for tea.
On the flip side of the coin, Brice and in happy band of co-inmates are the zenith of nastiness who make the blood run cold to such an extent, readers will feel themselves physically cringe in places, which again is testament to Giltrow’s descriptive prowess and ability to stay just the right side of over-egging the pudding and not delving into the realms of the lurid at any point.
The Distance, in short, is a superb read and Helen Giltrow is very much an author who’s star should be declared to be in the ascendency.