The Distance: A Thriller

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I started The Distance, a thriller by Helen Giltrow back in September and only just finished it now. I’m not normally one to take three weeks to read a book, especially an exciting, complex thriller like The Distance but a few things conspired against me.

Firstly, I had been waiting and waiting and waiting for Ken Follett’s The Edge of Eternity to come out and when it finally did on September 17th, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be reading it at the same time as at least one other book because The Edge of Eternity is a beast of a book and I really wasn’t planning on dragging it on the bus with me.

And secondly, my wedding was days away and the planning of that and then the family coming in from out of town to hang out…well that all killed my reading stats.

Happily, I am now a married woman and we can all get back to our regular lives!

I literally just finished The Distance in the last 15 minutes. This is another complex story so I’m going to try and describe it as best I can without ruining the whole thing for you. We meet Charlotte Alton, an elegant London socialite out for a night at the opera. While there she thinks she sees someone she knows. But not as Charlotte; as Karla, the name she uses for work. Her work happens to be making people disappear. She’s only ever slipped up once and shown her face to this guy Simon, after a mob hit went horrifically wrong. So now, years later, Simon is back with an impossible job. He has to get inside this experimental prison project and take out a woman. Karla’s job is to keep an eye on him, make sure he has all the right paperwork in all the right places so that he has access and then make sure that he’s OK while he’s in there. The problem is that Karla doesn’t know enough – she doesn’t know who the hit is, what she did or who’s behind the project. And then there’s the whole thing where Karla has been providing information to this old school MI5 agent who has thrown himself in front of a train. He never knew who Karla was and neither did his superiors, referring to the informant as Knox, but the information that Knox supplied was so valuable, that they’ve put a new guy on the trail.

This is one of those books that you need some dedicated time to read. It’s really complicated and if you read it in small snatches of time, you will lose some of the threads that Giltrow has woven expertly for you to find. It’s extremely fast paced – things you know to be true at one point are no longer true 10 pages later. The narrative changes between Karla’s point of view as she’s tracking down who the target is and what she did and who might be behind the hit and back to Simon as he’s in the prison trying to find the target and then as he’s trying to stay alive in there. Some of the sections in the prison are really gruesome and kind of hard to read – lots of broken fingers and arms and flesh and knives and horrible people doing horrible things to each other. Every once in a while, the perspective changes to Powell, the guy that they’ve set to figure out who Knox is.

At times I wondered where the whole Powell thing was going. It seemed like an afterthought for much of the story but in the end, it was kind of a big part of the story. Giltrow had just disguised it so well that I didn’t realize it.

It’s Fall now so this is the kind of book that will make you want to stay inside while the rain and wind lashes at the windows and it gets dark earlier and earlier. Another fun thrill ride.