336pp, hardback, £12.99
Reviewed by Alison Burns
Playing Russian roulette with sex is one of those things we humans do. The reasons are rich and various, as are the behaviours – and their consequences.
Aga Lesiewicz’s central character, Anna, a thirty-something young professional, lives near London’s Hampstead Heath, a notorious location for uninhibited activity. Turned on by the sight of two men having sex there in the woods in broad daylight, and open to new excitements after ditching her rich boyfriend, she is overwhelmed with desire for a charismatic fellow-jogger whom she encounters on her runs. The scene is set for wordless rough sex with a stranger, whom she nicknames ‘Mr Dior’. After two of these episodes, a woman is raped on the Heath. After the next, there is a second rape, and then a third. Is there a connection? Should she report her ‘dirty’ encounters?
At the same time, sinister things begin to happen closer to home: roses arrive from an unknown admirer, then crash onto the kitchen floor while she is out; her beloved Labrador, Wispa, escapes from her secure garden; someone breaks into her car. Anna suspects that she is being followed.
Meanwhile, at her place of work (a prominent TV corporation), restructuring is underway and everyone is at risk, including Anna. Suddenly, her whole world is ‘out of kilter, an unsafe and unpleasant place’. She wrestles with her conscience, and her fears, and tries, somewhat unsuccessfully, to pay attention to her women friends, who are trying to help her.
Anna’s dog-walker is extremely disturbed by the Heath rapes. She takes time off, just when Anna has to go to Paris on business. The new dog-walker is not available, so Anna’s friend Bell comes to stay. Before she leaves, Anna has a fourth encounter with Mr Dior. By the time she returns, there has been a murder. Anna’s flat is ransacked, her car tyres slashed, her dog poisoned – and she loses her job. The men in her life – neighbours, acquaintances, ex-boyfriend, boss, a handsome man who crashes into her car – all seem to have violent or otherwise unsavoury streaks. Whom can she trust? And is it somehow all her fault? Did she, without meaning to, start all this?
The police investigations intensify after a second murder on the Heath. Fortunately for Anna, there does seem to be some care and concern for her, not least from the police, as the vortex of threat begins to suck her down.
The scary denouement brings some surprises, all of which go to show that violence happens and is not always someone’s fault. It is an interesting feature of this page-turning thriller that the central character, a woman, is interested in sex and susceptible to beautiful men, and also (as she well knows) quite selfish. On occasions – especially after the first rape – this reader was shocked by her offhand reactions. Nonetheless, the ferocity of the aggression towards her, and towards the other women in the story, underlines the very fine line between kicks and danger.
For fans of contemporary psychological thrillers with strong heroines, here is a promising new writer on the block. Aga Leciewicz is working on her second novel, Exposure. It should be worth reading.