Examination of love and memory worth it for the big reveal

Rob Kidd reviews a very clever thriller.

Melanie Raabe

When you bite into a burger, you want to taste the meat.

Maybe you crave a sliver of cheese, a layer of salad for freshness, possibly the dribbling yolk of an egg to add some depth.

The point is, its predictability is part of what makes it comforting; its variables are what make it unique.

And so it is with thrillers. Readers will say they want a twist round every corner but they are liars.

Melanie Raabe poses one simple question: "who is the stranger?"

It is all that is needed.

And it is when you have it worked out that you change your mind, only to realise you were right the first time. Or something like that, at least.

It is actually pretty flipping clever.

The story begins with Sarah Petersen, a single mum living with her son, Leo, in Hamburg.

Her husband, Philip, disappeared on a business trip to Colombia seven years earlier and quite understandably, she has struggled to move on.

But when we meet her she has made the radical decision to cut off her long hair (prepare yourself for some not-so-subtle literary allusions - she is finally moving on from the loss of her husband).

No sooner has she done so, she receives a call which changes everything.

Philip has been found and is being flown back to Germany.

Sarah is forced to quickly come to terms with the fact the father of her child is not dead and will soon be standing before her.

When he arrives, however, she is faced with the horror of being confronted by an imposter on the airport tarmac.

Sarah tries to maintain her composure, while the many eyes of the media jostle for position to record the emotional reunion.

With "the stranger" - as he is then named - in her house, she begins a quest to uncover the man’s identity and motives, which takes her to the brink of insanity.

The next few days see her plot and he counter-plot. During their battle of wits we learn more about Sarah’s dark past and the stranger has his secrets, too.

Of course, they are revealed at the climax and you mentally backtrack through the book to check whether there were any clues you should have noticed.

While Raabe is a little heavyhanded with her imagery, the meandering journey is just about worth it when the twist is unkinked.

The epilogue, devoid of the tension that preceded it, first reads as a half-hearted attempt to tie up the loose ends into a neat bow. But on reflection, the author uses it to gently examine the concepts of love and memory.

Questions are answered; more are asked.

- Rob Kidd is an ODT court reporter.

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