Reviewed by Jan Kilpatrick

Told from the perspective of the escaped victim of a De Sadeian professor of psychology who she helped to bring to justice some ten years previously, debut novelist  Zan carefully drip-feeds the background story of this damaged girl and her fellow captives whilst relentlessly pushing forward an increasingly tense narrative centred on finding the fourth ‘missing’ girl from the period of their imprisonment in the cellar.

The terrible details of the torture and calculated brutality are there but meted out subtly. They are a known fact from the beginning but the primary focus never dwells on prurient sexploitation, rather on the ways victims cope in the face of such terror and the psychology of those who inflict such suffering. That said, whilst there are characters in the book who undertake psychological studies of suffering and highly deviant and excessive behaviour and indeed the whole narrative thrust of the novel focuses on this, the book itself is not profound or academic in this sense.  It is a fairly crude journey for the central character from being traumatised to a degree where she has not been able to go out into the world, to that of bold adventuress, determinedly in pursuit of the truth and her missing friend. Nevertheless, it is a pacey, well-structured ‘detective’ story which propels the reader forward through a series of gripping moments with the real threat of danger intensifying as all reaches a surprising climax.

There are moments when the suspension of disbelief is stretched thin and it feels as if the story has been written with TV in mind – particularly when a desperate situation is theatrically resolved by the arrival of a former cellar-mate. However, the relief felt is genuine and events continue to unfold with such an imperative thrust that, having read the book, I would happily watch the film were it made.

The blurb ‘hooked’ me, the subject matter could have very easily been handled badly but I remained hooked, finishing the book in record time. I can’t say that I empathised with the characters but in this age of fascination with crime – Scandi, home-grown or American – it ticked a lot of boxes.

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Harvill Secker is a firm with a long and illustrious history. Originally, Harvill and Secker were two separate companies, both with a particular interest in publishing international literature. The two imprints were formally joined together in 2005 but Harvill Secker's first incarnation, Martin Secker Ltd, was founded in 1910. Both as separate firms, and together as Harvill Secker, the house has enjoyed the contribution of many talented and committed authors, editors and other supporters over the years. It has been lucky enough to publish twenty Nobel Prize-winners, four Booker Prize-winners and to survive many changes of name and address, a variety of owners and mergers, a famous fake, an author who claimed his overdue manuscript had been eaten by a crocodile, the Blitz, a direct hit on a warehouse, a handful of libel actions, bankruptcies and a trial that rewrote obscenity laws.

After setting up his publishing house, Martin Secker went on to work with such notables as Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, Emily Dickinson, Ford Madox Ford and D.H. Lawrence. In 1936 Martin Secker Ltd was bought by Fredric Warburg and Roger Senhouse, and became Martin Secker & Warburg. Over the years, Secker & Warburg published many important authors including George Orwell, H.G. Wells, Jomo Kenyatta, Colette, Jean-Paul Sartre, Tennessee Williams, Federico García Lorca, Junichiro Tanizaki, Malcolm Bradbury, Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll, Yukio Mishima, Tom Sharpe, Italo Calvino, David Lodge, J.M. Coetzee, Howard Marks, Umberto Eco, James Kelman, Saul Bellow, Roddy Doyle, Joseph O'Connor, Tim Parks, André Brink and Louis de Bernières.

The Harvill Press was founded in 1946 by Manya Harari and Marjorie Villiers (hence Har-vill), who had worked together in the Foreign Office. By publishing distinguished foreign authors in translation they aimed to rebuild cultural bridges to Europe and Russia after the Second World War. They went on to publish translations from many different languages and the works of writers such as Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Anna Akhmatova, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, José Saramago, Per Olov Enquist, Georges Perec, Claudio Magris, Peter Høeg, W.G. Sebald, Ismail Kadare, Cees Nooteboom, Andrey Kurkov, Haruki Murakami, Manuel Rivas, Bernardo Atxaga and Henning Mankell, as well as leading English-speaking writers such as Robert Hughes, Richard Ford, Peter Matthiessen, Nicholas Shakespeare and Raymond Carver.

In 1997 Secker & Warburg became part of the Random House Group, followed by The Harvill Press in 2002. The two imprints combined forces under the name Harvill Secker in 2005.

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