A deadly pas de deux ignites the bold new thriller by breakthrough Dutch crime writer
The world of ballet might seem an improbable setting for a thriller. But in the hands of Anita Terpstra, the most refined of settings is soon shot through with betrayal and nail-biting suspense. In a world driven by beauty, ambition and athletic prowess, expect danger at every turn.
A fire breaks out and two victims are rushed to hospital: they are dancers and lovers Mischa de Kooning and Nikolaj Ivanov. After a distinguished career at the Royal Ballet, they have recently traded London for Amsterdam and a future with the Dutch National Ballet. Till the friends’ house where they were staying goes up in flames.
The celebrated couple are admitted to Intensive Care with serious burns. The circumstances of the blaze are unclear but suspicious enough to arouse the interest of the police. As the investigation proceeds, we are drawn alternately into the lives of Mischa and Nikolaj. Mischa gradually awakes from her comatose state. A nurse at her bedside tells her she has survived a fire at her home. She wants to respond but can’t.
By this time Nikolaj — loosely based on Sergei Polunin, the James Dean of contemporary dance — has already regained consciousness. He immediately points the blame at Mischa. ‘If I could still use my hands, I would wrap them around her slender neck and happily squeeze the life out of her.’ He receives a visit from Hans Waanders, a detective with one more case to solve before he retires. Nikolaj tells him that Mischa set fire to the place in an attempt to kill him. In the chapters that follow, told from Mischa’s perspective, Nikolaj turns out to be a man who has a troubling relationship with the truth.
Switching smoothly between the two perspectives, Terpstra picks more and more holes in her protagonists’ steadily unravelling stories. Both Nikolaj and Mischa turn out to be entirely unreliable narrators. What actually happened? Who started the fire and what motive could they have? What’s the story behind the death of the couple’s young daughter Natalja? And what about the mysterious demise of their friend and rival dancer Eliza? Terpstra deftly avoids answering these questions until the very end of the novel.