Even the kindliest person can become a killer
With his expanding series of psychological thrillers René Appel ranks among the best mystery writers in the Netherlands. His work has won him many plaudits, including the ‘Gouden Strop’ award for the best Dutch crime novel. But his success does not lie in his use of the ingredients of the typical blood-and-guts thriller. Appel writes psychological novels, in which ordinary people suddenly find themselves wrested out of their ordinary lives. ‘People do stupid things when they lose control,’ the author explains in an interview. ‘If you harass them long enough, if you hound them until they’re witless, they turn vicious. Even the kindliest person can be driven over the edge and become a killer.’
His latest book, Random Attack is again based on this theme. Martin Hogeveen, a successful management consultant, is involved in the overhaul and reorganisation of a local public service authority. Privately he is trying hard to secure his girlfriend’s commitment because he wants her to have his child. Meanwhile we follow Felix Nieberg, a trainee journalist setting out to find a father he has never known. These two story-lines, each dramatic in its own right, become entangled in a pointedly gratuitous manner. Both Martin and Felix let their frustration get the better of them, with unforeseen tragic consequences.
Random Attack tells a modern story. In recent years there has been a rise in stranger assaults, with random members of the public being attacked and sometimes killed by strangers. Appel latches onto this contemporary theme of senseless aggression, but he gives it a critical twist: while the violent actions of the main character Martin turn out to serve no purpose at all, his victims are hardly random. The atmosphere of violence and aggression extends to the psychological level, too. Martin is gradually and subtly driven over the edge of reason. However monstrous the excuses he invents for himself to ward off the consequences of his actions, the reader cannot help watching in suspense as this basically sympathetic character sinks deeper and deeper into the morass of his fervid imagination.
Appel writes with astonishing ease, giving the reader a smooth ride through the idiom of modern society. This is thanks largely to the distinctive ways in which the different characters express themselves, most notably the student Felix and the managerial-minded Martin. Deft touches of irony imperceptibly sharpen the reader’s sense of language, with the result that the modern world becomes that much easier to see through.