REVIEW: The Distance by Helen Giltrow

Series: N/A

Book Number: N/A

Read this book for: stand-alone thriller, tense and twisting plot, sharp prose, contemporary near-spy thrillers

Quick Review: An entertaining read; it’s sharp and well-paced with a plotline that (while not being entirely unpredictable) is interesting and cleverly laid out. Take it with you on holiday to lose yourself for a few hours at a time.


Charlotte Alton is a bored London socialite who is struggling to distance herself from her “working” life as Karla, a woman who deals in information (in a not-strictly-legal capacity). She is suddenly pulled back into her old life by a client-turned-accomplice for a seemingly impossible job: an execution of someone inside a new special high-security prison called the Program. Having to abandon many of her usual safeguards, and without so much of the critical information she needs, can she help her accomplice carry out his mission and keep him safe? Can she protect herself at the same time?

THE DISTANCE was entertaining, if not entirely unsurprising. Helen Giltrow’s debut novel was satisfyingly complex, with interesting characters and a somewhat unique setting.

Stylistically, this book was sharp and crisp and clean. The detail is just the right level, the pacing is almost perfect, and the writing is smart and technical enough to both sell you on the possibility of the story and draw you along with enough power to make you lose track of time. One of the interesting things to note about the style, however, was that this did not feel like a European thriller. I actually had to check where Giltrow was from, and despite the fact that she lives in the UK and was writing about London, I could not shake the feeling that this was an American novel. I think that it was probably both the rapid-fire pacing and the technical pieces that made THE DISTANCE feel like one of those FBI/hacker thrillers that are so popular. While this was not strictly a detraction, I felt like because of this style the novel was so clean that a lot of the character and atmosphere that London could have loaned to it was lost.

A note about the characters: while some of them are somewhat wooden, Giltrow does an incredible job on Karla. She is smart, skilled, and realistically complex, with conflicting emotions and failings that lead her to sometimes make poor decisions – but not many blatantly poor decisions (those ones where you roll your eyes and shout “why would you do that!?” at the book). She’s likable and believable, if a little distant (as that is part of her personality), and one of the finest examples of a realistic female character that I have seen in a thriller in a long time.

Despite the positives in this book, the plot itself was essentially a compilation of some of the most popular tropes in the thriller genre: “the impossible job”, “killer with a conscience”, “good guys gone bad”, “righting of past wrongs”, and “haunted by past mistakes/deeds” all make appearances here, along with others. However, blended together with the pacing and characters, it is still enough to keep you turning pages and staying up past your bedtime.

If you are looking for a holiday read – something not too taxing but that you can definitely lose yourself in for a few hours – add THE DISTANCE to your list.

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