Lasdun keeps his beautifully written narrative intensely personal. He makes journeys in the book, by train across America and later to Israel, in an attempt to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict and, de facto, his own microcosmic version of it. He writes vividly about his time in Palestine and Israel, and the invisible brick walls he sees that are just as solid and eternal as the Wailing Wall, and all the time he is dogged by his demon, trashing him on Amazon, writing accusation after accusation.
Part of his problem is her intelligence; Nasreen knows how and where to wound him. After she denounces him in a widely circulated e-mail as a racist and a thief, a mediocre writer and a danger to young women, the idea emerges that he needs to write this book for the sake of his future. “My motive initially was purely defensive, and there was one particular incident which triggered it. I had been invited to apply for a teaching job, when an e-mail arrived from Nasreen. In it was a link to a website where she had posted a long article about the traumas she’d endured at the hands of her ‘puffed-up former writing professor.’”
As Nasreen becomes more monstrous, like a malignant virus, sapping and encircling him, Lasdun’s writing becomes ever more powerful; he is on a quest, like the Gawain of his metaphor, for understanding and resolution. There have been many academic papers and books written about stalking; one of the most informative is Dr Lorraine Bell’s Managing Intense Emotions and Overcoming Self-Destructive Habits. As becomes evident through all the analysis, the Chinese proverb, “Before you seek revenge, first dig two graves,” applies to the stalking scenario. It is as destructive to the perpetrator as the victim.
Lasdun’s book is a work of semi-autobiography, but it grips like a fine thriller, catching something of the claustrophobic terror of Nancy Price’s suspenseful 1987 classic Sleeping With the Enemy, and it exposes, in all its rawness, that fine borderline between sanity and madness. But the greatest strength of Lasdun’s book is that it is real, a nightmare that continues long after the last page has been turned. A nightmare with an ending neither he nor anyone, least likely of all his antagonist, Nasreen, knows, for the mind of the stalker is truly unpredictable.
During my research for Not Dead Yet, I met the celebrity-stalking team of the Los Angeles Police Department, known officially as the Threat Management Unit. Its Chief, Luis Moore, told me of the stalking of Justin Bieber’s former girlfriend, Selena Gomez, by Thomas Brodniki. After his arrest, Brodniki’s statement to the police included these bizarre, confused, yet profoundly chilling words: “Selena Gomez and I are the holy chosen ones of God. … I'm not overly concerned if I meet Selena in the flesh because it may be like scripture says … ‘No man has seen the face of God.’ … Maybe us being together is too much like seeing the face of God. … One of my favorite scenarios is Selena flies out here on March 23, 2016. We start seeing each other, and we don't even touch each other for a month.”
Selena Gomez was lucky; her stalker, armed and determined, was apprehended before he could do any harm. But I am reminded of the sinister words of the IRA after their failed attempt to blow up British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984: “Today we were unlucky, but remember, we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”
That is the shadow in which every stalker’s victim walks. As Lasdun concludes, “It’s hard to know whether to be struck more by the conviction and energy of the effort, or by the tenacity of the silence surrounding it. Somehow they seem the measure of each other.”
The question that everyone who reads this page-turner will ask, of course, is whether Lasdun is telling the whole truth. Is there something important he has omitted in their “relationship”? I can only judge from my own experience. My folly was to respond politely to the very first e-mail my stalker sent me: “Dear Peter I thought you looked nice in that black T-shirt and I liked the way you smiled at me.”
In hindsight, I would have been wiser to ignore it rather than reply with a pleasant, brief, impersonal thank you. But if I had been teaching Lasdun’s class, I would have done exactly the same thing he did. That is the real chill this book leaves you with: The knowledge that, any day, this could happen to anyone.
Peter James is a British crime-thriller writer. Not Dead Yet, the eighth in his series featuring DS Roy Grace, was the first novel to knock Fifty Shades of Grey out of first place on U.K. bestseller lists.