The Barnes & Noble Review A bracing tale about the vexing inscrutability of human behavior, Pat Barker's Border Crossing takes on the provocative subject of child crime with a mesmerizing story about a boy murderer and the psychologist whose testimony put him in jail.
Border Crossing opens, young Danny Miller has reentered society with a polished jailhouse education, but he has yet to reconcile himself to the crime he committed. As a ten-year-old boy, Miller broke into an elderly woman's home and smothered her to death. Now, on a cold, wet night, he tracks down his former psychologist, Tom Seymour, who is in the midst of painfully confronting his own marital woes.
As Tom and his wife stroll along a gritty river quay, Danny throws himself into the icy water, making it look like a suicide attempt. After Tom saves the young man's life, he realizes the uncanny coincidence. A specialist in childhood violence, Tom senses professional gold in Danny's desire to talk over the past. He also feels responsible for Danny's fate. As Tom begins sessions with Danny, he tracks down the young man's jail warden, teacher, and probation officer and receives the same warning at each turn: Beware, he's dangerous.
Border Crossing moves forward with an ominous, tightly wound energy. The more we learn about Danny's prison antics -- seducing his English teacher, mimicking the speech and walk of his guards -- the more we distrust him. Tom, however, is inexorably drawn into the dark night of Danny's troubled conscience. Even as his marriage dissolves, Tom presses on, believing that if he can convince Danny to confess the truth, both of them will be redeemed. Yet, because of Danny's labyrinthine lies -- and the nagging possibility that he may want revenge -- Tom must tread lightly over past tragedies.
Like Melanie Rae Thon's contemporaneous novel,
, Sweet Hearts Border Crossing stares right into the face of evil and admirably resists judgment. It is possible to commit an evil deed, Barker suggests, without being an evil person, the borders we traverse between good and evil being so tenuous. As the novel careens toward its muted climax, when another child murderer may expose Danny's true identity, Barker leaves us with the thorny knowledge that rehabilitation, while possible for criminals, can never rescue their victims. (John Freeman)
Another World demonstrates the extraordinary immediacy and vigor of expression we have come to expect from Barker-brilliant touches of observation, an unfailing ear for dialogue, a talent for imagery that is darting and brief but wonderfully apt. This is a novel that doesn't allow you to miss a sentence. New York Times Book Review
In spare, rapidly moving, present-tense prose, Barker gives us family life straight up. There is not a smudge of sentimentality, not a single decorative arabesque. She adds dignity to this century's often bleak and undignified human record.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
The real question is: Can people change?"
The young man who asks this in Pat Barker's
Border Crossing isn't Billy Prior of her "Regeneration" trilogy, and he isn't asking it of a World War I psychiatrist. This is modern-day Danny Miller, convicted killer out on parole. And the man he's asking is psychologist Tom Seymour, whose testimony as an expert witness helped convict him - 13 years ago, when Danny was 10.
They meet again near Tom's home along the Tyne River. Tom and his wife are out for a walk when they see a young man throw himself in. Tom pulls him out and only later realizes who he is.
Danny wants his help to understand the murder. Tom resists: "I mean, you get fished out of a river by a psychologist, so you decide it's time for some psychotherapy. Suppose I'd been a tailor. Would you have ordered a suit?"
But he's the man who got Danny sentenced to prison for suffocating Lizzie Parks after sneaking into her house, stealing money and then knocking the old lady down the stairs. "You changed the way they saw him," Danny's attorney tells Tom.
Tom agrees to see Danny. His wife has left him. Her absence leaves a hole in his life, and people like Danny prowl around the edges of a space like that, Tom tells his friend Martha, who is Danny's probation officer. Be careful, she says.
Can people change? I don't think so. I think as we get older, we become more like ourselves. Thus, Danny Miller. Still dangerous. Thus, Pat Barker. Still brilliant.
At the start of this unsettling novel, Tom, a child psychiatrist, is walking on a riverside with his wife in England when a young man hurls himself into the water right in front of them. Tom leaps into the river and hauls the young man out. Only later in the hospital does he discover that this young man is Danny Miller, a former patient who murdered a woman when he was ten years old. When Tom digs into what's happened to Danny in the intervening years, he discovers some unsettling secrets, as Barker sets the stage for what could be an above-the-cut revenge thriller. Barker's interest, however, lies not in the skillful manipulation of atmospheres and secrets (though there are plenty of both), but in the slow unveiling of character. Compared to Barker's powerful 1995 Booker Prize-winning novel,
The Ghost Road, this is a slim work. Nonetheless, the story possesses elements of fear and sadness that linger long after the book is shut. Chris Barsanti
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 - Publisher's Weekly
In her eighth novel Barker, author of the award-winning World War I "Regeneration Trilogy," returns to the contemporary urban Newcastle setting of Another World. On a gray September afternoon, Tom and Lauren Seymour are walking along the riverbank arguing about the state of their failing marriage when a young man, after swallowing a bottle of pills, jumps into the river in front of them. Tom rescues the would-be suicide and later discovers that he has saved Danny Miller, a convicted murderer. A child psychologist, Tom had testified 13 years earlier at the then ten-year-old Danny's trial. Did his expert testimony, as Danny believes, sway the jury's verdict and send the boy to prison? Now released and living under an assumed name, Danny asks Tom to help him confront his childhood traumas, especially the murder of the old woman for which he is blamed. Still retaining a trace of guilt about the trial (perhaps Danny was as innocent as he claimed), Tom agrees and soon crosses the border between professional detachment and personal involvement. As with Barker's other books, this is a subtle psychological tale with an edge of menace. Is Danny a victim or a manipulative psychopath? Barker also captures the grittiness and bleak beauty of England's north and its people. Unfortunately, the novel falls flat at the end, leaving the reader disappointed and dissatisfied. Not one of her best efforts. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/00.] Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A former child murderer's relationship with the psychologist whose testimony had assured his conviction and imprisonment is the core of this intriguing, melodramatic, and rather diffused eighth novel from the British author of the award-winning Regeneration Trilogy. In fact the characters of
Regeneration's wartime psychotherapist W.H.R. Rivers and his bisexual patient Billy Prior have clearly influenced those of this novel's protagonist, Tom Seymour, and morally opaque Danny Miller, whom Tom rescues from drowning without recognizing him (13 years after Danny, at age 10, had murdered an elderly woman neighbor)-in a striking opening scene dominated by ironic and disturbing images of childbirth. Barker works hard at portraying Seymour's innate decency, at odds with his personal failings (as a presumably infertile and inattentive husband) and his inability to grasp the quicksilver enigma of the adult Danny (now renamed "Ian Wilkinson"): brooding, paranoid, apparently deeply traumatized, yet alert and intelligent, sedulously pursuing informal "sessions" with Seymour (because "I simply want to know what happened and why"). Their meetings are balanced by scenes depicting both Tom's unraveling personal life and his investigative visits with people involved in Danny's past, his trial, and his (ostensible) rehabilitation-including a hard-bitten probation officer, a benign reform-school headmaster, and the male teacher accused of sexually abusing the adolescent Danny. Barker keeps it moving (the thriller element here is quite pronounced, though subordinated to the central patient-therapist relationship), and the story holds our interest, even if it does seem overindebted to bothPatriciaHighsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley and Barker's own earlier, superior fiction. Not one of Barker's triumphs. She's a gifted realist who usually excels at putting flesh on the bones of what might seem mere case histories, but Border Crossing is really only a return visit to previously explored fictional territory.
"It's her canny feel for the psyche's ambiguous meanderings, more than plot twists, that generates most of the thrills....This author creates an atmosphere of menace worthy of a Joyce Carol Oates."Dan Cryer,
"Barker soars to new heights with this harrowing, contemporary study of fate tainted by the stench of evil."Robert Allen Papinchak,
"Barker creates a sense of menace worth of Ian McEwan...
Border Crossing is replete with sharp, expressive exchanges, hard poetry, and as many enigmas as implacable truths."Kerry Field, The Atlantic Monthly
"Barker writes with compelling urgency
Border Crossing is to be read in one sitting."Joan Mellen, The Baltimore Sun "Exhilarating moral exploration, and prose as naked and jolting as an unwrapped live wire."Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review
"Pat barker understands the dynamics of psychic and shutdown as well as any writer living....In
Border Crossing Barker brings post-traumatic stress disorder from the literal to the domestic battlefield."Sven Birkerts, Esquire
"Barker has constructed in Danny a classic borderline personality disorder; the result is both chilling and psychologically persuasive...as frightening as it is wise."Gail Caldwell,
The Boston Sunday Globe