Verhoef, Esther - 'Close-Up' (translated by Leon Vincent)
Margot Laine is an office-furnishings salesperson who calls herself an interior designer. She's recently been dumped by her husband of seven years, John, and has moved from the village where she's lived since childhood to a new apartment, helped by her brother and a couple of friends. She's put on a lot of weight over the past few years, feels stifled by her uncomprehending parents, and as the book opens is stood up by a girlfriend with whom she's arranged to go to London for a rare weekend away.
Margot decides to go anyway, and while on the plane a handsome fellow passenger opens up a conversation with her. As they disembark, he gives her his mobile phone number, encouraging her to get in touch if she's at a loose end during her weekend. After struggling to find her way to the city centre, being ripped off by the taxi driver and discovering her hotel to be little short of disgusting, she contacts the man in desperation. He turns out to be a well-known art photographer called Leon, and seems to be very keen on Margot, to her surprise (her self esteem is rock bottom).
I became absorbed in Margot's world while I read this excellent little thriller. Although I found some of her helplessness during the weekend stretching it a bit (wouldn't she at least have taken a tourist guidebook with her?), the author provides a convincing view of the world through a lonely, insecure woman's eyes. Her gradual awakening as a result of Leon's attention and interest is meticulously told. Although Leon is a rather cliched Mr Rochester type (secretive, autocratic), he seems to be not only genuinely devoted to Margot but also, by encouraging her to quit her job and providing her with contacts for her fledging designer business, seems to be helping her to be independent.
I write "seems" because of course there is a catch. Leon's previous girlfriend, who inevitably looks uncannily like Margot, committed suicide by cutting her wrists while in the bath. Leon has never recovered. We, the reader, know that the death was not suicide but murder, and we know that Margot is in the killer's sights. What follows is a kind of dance between Margot's gradual build-up of self-confidence and improvement in all aspects of her life (I particularly liked her changing relationship with her parents), and the slow development of the killer's plans to kill her. Is Leon the killer, or is it someone else? I'm not going to reveal the answer here, of course, but if you like your crime fiction suspenseful, erotically romantic, tense and pacy, this is definitely a book for you. It is confidently written, smoothly translated, with a believable, attractive protagonist.
Maxine Clarke, England