Set in the north of England, Pat Barker's new novel portrays a child psychiatrist who rescues a man from drowning one day while walking on a beach in Northumberland. Uncannily, he recognizes the man: it's Danny Miller, a child murderer at whose trial he once gave evidence. Since the trial, he has reconsidered that evidence and found it lacking. Now he confronts the man whose altered fate may be his responsibility.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Britain's Barker is best known here for her magnificent Regeneration Trilogy, based on post-World War I cases of shell shock; her new novel, set in a dour Northumbrian city, carries some of the same sense of dread discovery into contemporary civilian life. Years ago, when eight-year-old Danny Miller was accused of the murder of an old woman, psychiatrist Tom Seymour provided damning psychological testimony at the trial. Danny was sent away to a home and vanished from Tom's life, if not from his sometimes guilty memory. Then one day Tom and his wife, Lauren, out for a walk, thwart a watery suicide attempt. The drowning young man turns out to be Danny, and he badly needs Tom's help in coming to terms with his childhood trauma. So far, so good, and Barker, with her customary vivid writing and strong narrative pull, has set up a tantalizing series of questions. Was Danny really guilty Was Tom's evidence responsible for his upended life And what has the experience done to Tom and his shaky marriage When Lauren decamps and a new child murder re-ignites interest in the old Danny Miller case, the stakes are perilously raised for both Tom and Danny. There are some wonderfully tense scenes of psychological exploration; the drear Newcastle atmosphere is palpable; and Barker's ear for dialogue is, as always, acute. In the end, however, the lack of a wider resonance of the kind that made the war books and the later Another World so memorable leaves the book, for all the quality of its craft, feeling flat. It is a convincing psychological thriller, but Barker enthusiasts have come to expect much more than that. (Mar.) Forecast: As suggested, this novel is not as powerfully realized as Barker's best books, and it will likely prove disappointing to some of her U.S. admirers, which may hamper sales down the road. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
February 01, 2001
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Excerpt from Border Crossing by Pat Barker
They were walking along the river path, away from the city, and as far as they knew they were alone.
They'd woken that morning to a curious stillness. Clouds sagged over the river, and there was mist like a sweat over the mud flats. The river had shrunk to its central channel, and seagulls skimmed low over the water. The colour was bleached out of houses and gardens and the clothes of the few passers-by.
They'd spent the morning indoors, picking away at their intractable problems, but then, just before lunch, Lauren had announced that she had to get out. They might have done better to drive to the coast, but instead they donned raincoats and boots and set off to walk along the river path.
They lived on the edge of what had once been a thriving area of docks, quays, and warehouses, now derelict and awaiting demolition. Squatters had moved into some of the buildings. Others had suffered accidental or convenient fires, and were surrounded by barbed-wire fences, with pictures of Alsatians and notices saying DANGER. KEEP OUT.