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I came across this in the library and as soon as I took a look at the blurb on the back I was interested. I guess that's the psychologist in me, but the basing of this story of a phenomenon, the bystander effect, sounded like an interesting concept, even though I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from the style of writing as I'd never heard of the author before. It turns out that this is a little hidden gem that was well worth reading.
Acts Of Violence was conceived from an event in 1960s New York, where a woman, Kitty Genovese, was raped and murdered. Although many people saw the incident happen in the comfort of their own homes, looking through the window, no one helped or reported it. This novel therefore takes a similar stance by setting the scene in an apartment block, with many windows getting different angles on the scene below.
Instead of telling this from one viewpoint, or giving a passive account with one protagonist, Jahn takes a very different approach. He tells us stories of each character, each person that had some input into that night. The people living at the apartment, the ambulance driver, the killer, the victim, the police. Each chapter reverts to another character and builds on their stories, often interweaving them and showing the web of interrelations between people who may not necessarily have come together if it wasn't for this tragedy.
The act itself involves a young woman, Katrina Marino, arriving back to her apartment. A man waits in the shadows and attacks her with a knife, and although the dark has settled in for the night there are lamps to illuminate the evil. Her screams and her crumpled form are seen and heard by the other residents, with many of the windows showing their faces peering down at her, the curtains drawn back whilst they look. But no one helps or calls the police.
There are lots of things I liked about this book. The style of writing was intelligent yet easy to follow and be absorbed by. Giving different perspectives and stories of various characters gave the novel life and dynamics, making it an interesting read. There was also some depth to characters, allowing us to be better able to understand their situation and their lack of intervention. What I found quite chilling was the descriptiveness of the attack itself; it lasted a long time as Katrina was a fighter, but the horror and brutality was brought to life with vividness. I felt myself empathising with Katrina, wondering how she was feeling and what she was thinking, and although the violence made me cringe, it was something that really brought the events home, so to speak, and got me absorbed into the book as a whole.
There's praise for the book on the front : 'Dark, compelling and powerful... a rare and fine talent' - R.J.Ellory, along with a sticker that tells us this was a winnder at the Crime Thriller Awards on ITV3. On the back is more: 'An audacious, inventive piece of literary thriller writing... announces the arrival of a distinctive new talent' - Daily Mail.
There wasn't anything I actually disliked about this. It's not really an uplifting book, except perhaps for Katrina's brave fight for life, and it's not a murder mystery either. It's a tale of human suffering, of human behaviour and group processes. You don't have to be into psychology to want to read about this and reflect on the 'bystander intervention' phenomenon; it's a gritty yet interesting read for anyone who wants something a little different and who wants to be absorbed in what feels very realistic.
RRP £7.99, 278 pages over 50 chapters