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A former child murderer's relationship with the psychologist whose testimony had assured his conviction and imprisonment is the core of this intriguing, melodramatic, and rather diffused eighth novel from the British author of the award-winning Regeneration Trilogy.

In fact the characters of Regeneration's wartime psychotherapist W.H.R. Rivers and his bisexual patient Billy Prior have clearly influenced those of this novel's protagonist, Tom Seymour, and morally opaque Danny Miller, whom Tom rescues from drowning without recognizing him (13 years after Danny, at age 10, had murdered an elderly woman neighbor)—in a striking opening scene dominated by ironic and disturbing images of childbirth. Barker works hard at portraying Seymour's innate decency, at odds with his personal failings (as a presumably infertile and inattentive husband) and his inability to grasp the quicksilver enigma of the adult Danny (now renamed "Ian Wilkinson"): brooding, paranoid, apparently deeply traumatized, yet alert and intelligent, sedulously pursuing informal "sessions" with Seymour (because "I simply want to know what happened and why"). Their meetings are balanced by scenes depicting both Tom's unraveling personal life and his investigative visits with people involved in Danny's past, his trial, and his (ostensible) rehabilitation—including a hard-bitten probation officer, a benign reform-school headmaster, and the male teacher accused of sexually abusing the adolescent Danny. Barker keeps it moving (the thriller element here is quite pronounced, though subordinated to the central patient-therapist relationship), and the story holds our interest, even if it does seem overindebted to both Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley and Barker's own earlier, superior fiction.

Not one of Barker's triumphs. She's a gifted realist who usually excels at putting flesh on the bones of what might seem mere case histories, but Border Crossing is really only a return visit to previously explored fictional territory.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-374-18115-2
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2001


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