Armed strangers kidnap a vacationing couple in Kjeldsen’s (Land of Hidden Fires, 2017, etc.) taut thriller.
After three miscarriages, Marah Lenaerts has been sinking into depression. She’s an American expat who’s been living overseas for years with her trader husband, Eden, a Belgian currently based in Shanghai. Eden has been distancing himself from Marah, but he suggests they take a Malaysian getaway, and Marah reluctantly agrees. This decision may not bode well for her neuroses. Scuba diving is on the itinerary, and it triggers her terror of sea creatures. But the couple seems to grow closer, and Marah’s anxiety eases. This quickly changes when Eden and Marah are accosted by men brandishing M16s. Although the aggressors’ English is limited, it’s abundantly clear that they’re kidnapping the couple. What’s less clear, at least initially, is who their captors are and what exactly they want. Marah has always looked to Eden for a sense of safety and protection. But with her husband just as helpless as she is, she will have to find her own strength. Kjeldsen’s short novel moves at a blistering pace, putting Marah through one ordeal after another. The protagonist’s mass of trepidations amplifies the tension; even breaks from the captors’ threats, for example, are wrought with inner turmoil, including a fear that Eden will attempt escape without her. Sharp, concise writing only improves the tale. Furthermore, readers will relate to many of the experiences and, after tiger mosquitoes, sand flies, and other insects leave behind “a tapestry of bites and rashes,” will feel as uncomfortable and itchy as Marah. The kidnappers’ objective does eventually come to light, and though some will guess where the plot is heading, it won’t lessen the impact of the ending or Marah’s harrowing struggle.
This tense, haunting tale gives readers front-row seats to the protagonist’s torment.