Historical Fiction Literary Fiction Mystery

The Dark Frontier – A.B. Decker

on
12 July 2021
The Dark Frontier Book Cover The Dark Frontier
A. B. Decker
Fiction
Clink Street Publishing
25 March 2021
Kindle
494

The death of journalist Frank Goss has cast a shadow full of troubling question marks over Ellen's bereavement. Above all, what led him to disappear from her life without any explanation? When Frank arrives in Basel, Switzerland, to cover a referendum on women's suffrage in 1971, he is plagued by hallucinations. After admission to a clinic, he vanishes. And Ellen is left only with a mysterious verse that psychiatrist Dr Zellweger says he wrote before discharging himself. But not only do the descriptions of their patient not tally with the Frank she knows. The patient gave his name as Eigenmann. Had he been living a separate life she knew nothing about? While she searches for Frank with generous support from Zellweger's wife Marthe, the story of Eigenmann gradually emerges: the drama of a man possessed, exiled in a border town beset by the bullying behaviour of its Nazi neighbours in the late 1930s and drawn by the allure of a beautiful woman. But was this all a figment of Frank's imagination? Only after his funeral is it brought home to Ellen that she was offered a clue to unlocking this mystery from the outset.

Inflection

The Dark Frontier is an absorbing and mysterious drama that meticulously crafts a menacing tale that explores a personality transformation of the main protagonist along with two sequences of events. As a London-based journalist, Frank Goss takes an assignment in Switzerland to cover the 1971 Swiss referendum of women’s right to vote. Frank, recently married after just three months of a whirlwind romance, leaves his new wife Ellen as he travels to Basel. The narrative around Frank splits into two timelines, both disturbing, with foreboding undercurrents as Frank finds himself on the wrong side of dark forces that put his life in peril.

In 1971, Frank suffers during a drinking night and finds himself disorientated and stumbling onto the road where he is hit by a car, brought to the hospital, then transferred to a psychiatric clinic under the care of Professor Abegg and Dr Zellweger. Having requested Frank’s wife to travel to Basel, Dr Zellweger has shocking news when she arrives – her husband discharged himself, leaving only a cryptic message, and they do not know where he is. Considering his state of distress and speaking with a native German dialect of the bordering region, they are duly concerned. Dr Urs Zellweger feels obligated that Frank disappeared under his supervision and invites Ellen to stay with him and his wife Marthe until they find Frank. An arrangement that leads to a burgeoning friendship between Ellen and Marthe, revealing two fascinating characters as they provide background on the historic nature of Switzerland, and their discussions on relationships and psychiatry disclose exciting aspects of the story. When I see a reference to Dr C.G. Jung, it creates so many alluring possibilities of psyche transference that AB Decker has used to irresistible effect.

In the late 1930s, the second timeline establishes Frank Eigenmann in pre-war Switzerland, where his Jewish friend Achim recognises the changing danger towards Jews and the long reach of German power across the border into Switzerland. Frank’s curiosity gets him involved with dark forces that do not like the attention and see Frank as a threat. They warn him, rather forcibly, to stay away from the beautiful Patricia Roche, whom Frank is mesmerised with. The subversive relationship, with the possibility of intimacy, is itself intriguing. The author underpins the pervading atmosphere of secrecy and uncertainty with this additional confused emotional encounter.

As Ellen tries to find Frank, she discovers a man who was “said to be her husband – but was fast becoming a stranger to her”. The revelations are shocking, and her closeness with Marthe opens her thoughts to other possibilities.

“She ponders Marthe’s theory about past lives, what she called frontaliers of the consciousness. And wondered whether Frank’s cryptic verse might hold any clues to his own dark frontier. She read the words once more and found them no less baffling than the first time she had read the verse.”

The setting of Switzerland carries a huge persona into the story, and A.B. Decker perfectly aligned the duplicity of Frank’s consuming psychological turmoil with the captivating background of Switzerland and its divided cultural consciousness between German and French influences. Switzerland’s vivid scenery and historical significance were beautifully drawn and added to this novel’s depth and solid foundation. If I had one issue, the level of detail was overwhelming and often distracted the flow of the story, losing momentum when anticipation was piqued.

I would recommend this book especially for those that enjoy a solidly built slow-burn story of great characters, compelling location, and a theme that intrigues with a deep psychological twist.

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Peter Donnelly
Ireland

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley peter@thereadingdesk.com

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