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The Woman in the Fifth by Douglas Kennedy

Pub Date:

The Woman in the Fifth
Douglas Kennedy

Atria
7-29-11
Hardcover/352 pages
ISBN: 978-1451602111
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". . . this taut thriller dances close to madness in a surreal world . . ."

Haunting and violent tale of lust and loss.

When your wife and your boss, who have been carrying on an affair, conspire to destroy your career, a flirtation begins and ends in scandal, your daughter despises you and will not see you, and reporters hound you no matter where you are, what do you do? Fly to Paris and start over.

Harry Ricks arrived in Paris, checked into a hotel, immediately became ill, and spent the next ten days with a mercenary hotel manager who fleeced him for everything, including a doctor’s charges. The night desk clerk helped Harry and, when asked where he could go, offered to take him to the tenth arrondissement, the Turkish quartier, and help get him into a room down the hall from his own. The hunted have no other choices when they want to hide.

Harry’s problems were just beginning to settle down when he attended a salon and met a woman that fills him with lust and desire and a sense of hope—until people he knows, people who have wronged or hurt him are founded murdered. Someone is looking out for Harry and will stop at nothing to remove the obstacles in his path . . . but who is it?

Paris evokes gauzy dreams of romantic walks along the Champs Elysees, a cozy tête-à-tête at a sidewalk café while sipping café au lait or a glass of wine, chestnut trees in bloom, and warm rains that nourish the soul. Douglas Kennedy sets Harry down in Paris in the midst of winter, broken and alone, and proceeds to strip Harry of everything and drowns him in fear and loneliness, dragging him down to the depths of Parisian society. Each chapter of Harry’s life is an exercise in the despair of degradation.

When Harry meets Margit Kadar, he believes things are turning around and Kennedy continues to drag him down even farther into depths he never imagined were possible. There is a sense of the thriller in The Woman in the Fifth (the fifth refers to the fifth arrondissement) that glimmers with a surreal element that turns dangerous. Margit Kadar is the Cheshire Cat: a lovely intelligent woman of the world with a sad history and razor sharp claws.

I expected a tale of woe and redemption with Harry a modern day Job, and there are elements of Job’s downfall in Harry’s tale. What I got was the terror of a man who thinks he is losing his mind only to find out his worst nightmares are fairy tales compared to the life he is forced to live.

Kennedy succeeds in recreating Alice in Wonderland and Job’s tale and spinning it on the edge of a straight razor while Harry tumbles endlessly down the rabbit hole. Rich with metaphor highlighted by darkness, this taut thriller dances close to madness in a surreal world one step removed from our own world.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell