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.