- 25 Feb 21
Things Ain't Working Out Down At The Farm
There's no messing about here, Dean pushes us in at the deep end. Jane has a fiver in her hair and a right leg that is all but useless from the knee down. She struggles to make her way from the remote farmhouse to a distant road, in the hope that someone, anyone will stop and pick her up. Someone does, but it’s him, Lenn, her ‘husband’ and her tormentor. He drags her back inside and orders her to empty her pockets. She has four objects left – a picture of her parents, letters from her sister Kim-Ly, her ID card – with her real name, Thanh Dao, and her place of birth, Biên Hòa, Vietnam, and a copy of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. He forces her to choose, a penalty for her escape attempt, and the picture of her parents disappears into Lenn’s overalls. He gives 'Jane' half a pill, some sort of animal tranquilliser, as if to ease both the physical and mental pain.
The relentless opening puts the hook in, which then allows Dean to reveal the hell Jane/Thanh Dao has landed in, piece by piece. The sisters were smuggled to England after their parents were persuaded it was for the best. Kim-Ly’s resultant debt is two years away from being paid off, and it is this near-freedom that is held over Jane’s head as another thing that can be taken away if she doesn’t do what she is told.
The breathtakingly repellent character of Lenn is a remarkable achievement. He is an irredeemably horrific bastard who becomes more abhorrent as each detail of his dark psyche is uncovered. We see him reviewing the tapes he shoots of 'Jane’s' day, he ruins Match Of The Day forever, we’re told what happened to 'Jane’s' leg, we see what transpires during the three weeks of every month that 'Jane' is forced to sleep with him, we see how he reacts to changes in their living arrangements, and how he deals with the appearance of outsiders. He is an empty, hollow, malevolent, chilling thing, made all the more so because of his abject ordinariness.
As each degradation is inflicted, and each piece of Jane/Thank Dao is taken away, represented by these few meagre possessions – she keeps the ID card over the photo because it reminds here that she is hers, not his – you'll wonder just how much one person can take, and you might have to restrain yourself from shouting at the book, pleading with her to act, as you nervously turn the pages.
Dean, who readers may know from his Tuva Moodyson series – a deaf reporter investigates criminal doings in Sweden - has masterfully fulfilled the criteria of ‘the thriller’: continually kick the reader around, force them to keep reading with little or no regard for time or the need for sleep, and deliver unto them a proper and satisfying ending. Top-notch fare.