This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.
Charlotte Alton may seem like a well-bred London socialite, but her alter ego, Karla, operates in the shadows, gathering information that can be used for deadly purposes but also for good. While at the opera one evening, Charlotte sees a man she helped disappear eight years ago–a man she never thought she’d see again. Simon Johanssen is a killer for hire who was forced to go underground when a job went wrong.
Johanssen has returned to take a new assignment, but he needs Karla’s help—to break into a prison to kill a woman. Karla arranges the necessary paperwork and gets him admitted as a convicted double murderer, after she warns him that the man who wanted him dead eight years ago is incarcerated at the same prison.
Karla digs further into the identity of Johanssen’s target and discovers no record of the female prisoner or her supposedly horrific crime. Fearing Johanssen has walked into a trap, Karla gives orders to her colleagues to pull him out… and is told he can’t be found anywhere.
Helen Giltrow’s debut novel, The Distance, has many threads with multiple narrators, and nothing can be taken at face value since most of the characters mistrust each other. Johanssen’s determination to finish the job—despite the sadistic treatment he suffers, the lack of information about his target, and Karla’s repeated attempts to get him to abort—seems unreasonable if not foolish at first, but his commitment helps bring about a satisfying ending to this brutal thriller.
Nerd verdict: Intense Distance