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Crime and derangement: William Saunderson-Meyer reviews Dirk Kurbjuweit’s Fear

Published in the Sunday Times

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. William Saunderson-Meyer @TheJaundicedEye

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