Crime fiction is renowned for dealing with contemporary issues, and there’s nothing more contemporary than Zoë Beck’s unflinching look at the dilemmas posed by modern-day terrorism and anti-terrorism.  Fade to Black is not as straightforward as the epigraph suggests.

This is a simple story of good and evil
Light and dark,
White and black.
(“Sun, “Hofesch Schechter Company)

3D25B77A-2E22-4917-BF54-2BE22BDD6DA6Not quite believing what he is seeing, cameraman Niall Stuart spots two young men walking down a London street with machetes in their hands.  He decides to follow them.  They’re not behaving in a threatening manner. Perhaps the weapons are fakes. No cause for alarm …. until the two begin to hack a man to death, in broad daylight. What does Niall do? Call the police? No, he films them.  They see him and force him to continue recording and upload what turns into a propaganda video for IS.

Arrested as an accomplice, Niall finds himself detained under British terrorism laws. All legal rights stripped away, guilty until proven innocent, at the mercy of the prison guards.  Fortunately Niall has contacts in high places, both political and media-related.

Falsely fêted as a hero, (a status he has the good sense to disavow), Niall is commissioned to produce a documentary examining the origins of the machete attack.  Because the two terrorists are home-grown.  And there’s no question more perplexing than this.  What makes these young men turn against the country they have been brought up in?  But if Niall thinks that his problems are behind him, he is sorely mistaken, because what he uncovers teaches him one particularly chilling lesson. Enemies aren’t always where you think them to be ….

…. and once Zoë Beck has something in her cross-sights, she aims to kill.  Whether that be the vacuity of daytime TV, political soundbites, the moral ambiguity, if not corruption, of the secret services and our ruling elite.  This read delivers shock after shock after shock, sometimes sensationally, although not gratuitously (even if there is no shying away from gruesome detail) and in a way designed to provoke thought. This is particularly noticeable when looking at the cost of  war photography and journalism on the photographers and journalists themselves.  It doesn’t offer easy solutions to society’s ills, but it does explain the cause of some.

Niall’s story unfolds over the course of just ten days, and is structured day by day.  This keeps the story moving at a fair pace, although it does sag somewhat as Niall begins work on the documentary.  All I can say is keep going, because once the dénouement begins, it’s like riding a zipline.  The epilogue – three weeks later – is short and devastating.

Fade to Black (Schwarzblende) won the 2016 German Krimi Prize 3rd place.  Set entirely in London, and translated (thankfully) without jarring Americanisms by Rachel Hildebrandt, it reads seamlessly, like a top-notch British thriller should.