Chance: existential peril

ChancePlenty of people aren’t going to like Chance. It’s ambitious and provocative, complex in construction and in its prose. Superficially it treads the same neurotic waters as Jonathan Kellerman’s trick-cyclist investigations, where the reader is given psychological insights into the mechanisms of the unravelling mind.

But author Kem Nunn takes many more risks than Kellerman does, and pulls away all the anchors from his good doctor’s sleek, urban existence. Think of the corruption of Will Graham in the TV series Hannibal and you’ll get a sense of the existential peril which assaults forensic neuropsychiatrist Dr Eldon Chance.

The vulnerable Dr Chance falls for a femme fatale when he’s at a low ebb, emotionally and financially exhausted by divorce. He makes a questionable decision which sets the dominos of moral ambiguity tumbling… until suddenly he’s confronted with all too physically painful consequences of his increasingly criminal actions. The author has crafted a modern day descent into hell, where weakness, lust, greed, cowardice and obsession contribute to the professional, intellectual and spiritual unravelling of the central character.

Chance is, therefore, a proper psychological thriller – one in which psychology and psychiatry are at the core of the story. The opening chapters feature a succession of superb case study sketches, in which the doctor encapsulates his patients’ personality disorders in a few presumptuous statements. He is pride personified, heading for a very big fall. It comes his way in the shape of sexual obsession mixed with multiple personalities…

Speaking of which, the chain of events surrounding the woman of his dreams / bunny-boiler, and her possessive corrupt cop husband, become increasingly unlikely as the plot progresses. Even my credibility was strained in the final chapters, and I wondered if the author was actually experimenting with ‘how far is too far?’ If so, that was too far. The relationship between Dr Chance and the girl of his dreams is the core of the story, yet it felt obscured by her increasingly implausible back-story. A truckload of plot twists diverted my attention from the more intriguing aspect of the tale: how many of the woman’s multiple identities were her creation, and how much of her was a construct of Dr Chance’s fragmenting psyche?

On the other hand, D is a fabulous character. Is he really the implacable, streetwise, military veteran he appears to be? Or is he another fantasist, another individual carving out an identity of his own creation? Hang on, isn’t that what we’re all doing?

As I said at the beginning, this type of literary fiction is not to the taste of many crime-thriller fans. Only a brave author risks incorporating Kierkegaard and Nietzsche into noir these days. Those readers who prefer their psychological thriller to be free of geometric paradoxes, and who hate half-page paragraphs made up of a single, convoluted sentence stuffed with dependent clauses, should probably stick to something more conventional. ‘The Girl Who Ran Out Of Prosecco’ is bound to be released soon.

8/10
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Chance by Kem Nunn is available in the UK as an ebook

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