It was during a spell in intensive care, recovering from an organ transplant made possible by the kindness and bravery of my wife, when I appreciated just how thin the thread on which life hangs actually is. And how little time we have to live it. With early-onset hearing loss thrown into the mix before this, I had already learned that we simply have to play the hand we’re dealt.
And it has to be said that I’ve also been dealt some pretty good hands in my life as well. One of these brought me to a corner of the world, a borderland where the national frontiers of France, Germany and Switzerland meet, which has been my home ever since.
With its history, cultural mix and medley of languages, this border region fascinated me from the word go. So inspired was I by the ambience of the place that I felt the need to write my first novel. Originally entitled In Two Minds, it proved to be unfit for publication and was consigned to a drawer, where it lay for some time.
But the idea behind the novel would not let go of me. And as my patience with time was now drained forever by those reflections in intensive care, I retrieved the MS from the drawer and gave it another go. Lending it a new working title, Grenzgänger, I completely rewrote the MS. After it had been read by a number of other people and a series of amendments then made, along with another change of title to The Dark Frontier, the book finally saw the light of publication day last year.
The Dark Frontier:
“an absorbing and mysterious drama that meticulously crafts a menacing tale” - Goodreads
“gripping” “definitely worth reading” - Goodreads
“An interesting and slow burning thriller, this book compels you to keep reading.
Playing with the idea of past lives, the plotline held echoes of ‘Cloud Atlas’ for me.”
The Dark Frontier
The death of journalist Frank Goss has cast a shadow full of troubling question marks over Ellen's bereavement. Above all, what led him to disappear from her life without any explanation?
When Frank arrives in Basel, Switzerland, to cover a referendum on women's suffrage in 1971, he is plagued by hallucinations. After admission to a clinic, he vanishes. And Ellen is left only with a mysterious verse that psychiatrist Dr Zellweger says he wrote before discharging himself. But not only do the descriptions of their patient not tally with the Frank she knows. The patient gave his name as Eigenmann. Had he been living a separate life she knew nothing about?
While she searches for Frank with generous support from Zellweger's wife Marthe, the story of Eigenmann gradually emerges: the drama of a man possessed, exiled in a border town beset by the bullying behaviour of its Nazi neighbours in the late 1930s and drawn by the allure of a beautiful woman. But was this all a figment of Frank's imagination? Only after his funeral is it brought home to Ellen that she was offered a clue to unlocking this mystery from the outset.
A Grenzgänger in German - or frontalier in French - is a frontier worker, a person who commutes across borders for their livelihood. As someone who has spent the best part of my life on or around borders, I have also crossed a few frontiers in my time – a freedom that was taken for granted until the COVID-19 pandemic. The frontiers to be crossed now are confined mostly to those in the mind.
Boundaries – whether national, cultural or frontiers of the consciousness – are a theme I especially like to explore.
In many ways, the writer B. Traven was also something of a Grenzgänger. And a story that has long intrigued me about him is the mystery surrounding the name. It meant nothing to me when, as a youngster, I avidly devoured John Huston’s film adaptation of his Treasure of the Sierra Madre on TV. Until I read more about him.
Theories abound as to the identity of the man behind the name: from an obscure German anarchist known as Ret Marut to the half-brother of Walther Rathenau, foreign minister in the Weimar Republic until his assassination in 1922. But as B. Traven himself wrote: “The creative person should have no other biography than his works”.
And he’s not wrong. His works tell us all we need to know. What’s in a name, after all? It can be a pretty unreliable label that tells you little about what’s in the tin. So no apologies for my own chosen name. To anyone who might be interested in the story behind its author, I can only say: read the work instead. It's sure to be more interesting. And if you enjoy the first piece – and even, or especially, if you don’t – then try the next, which is set in Turkey and due to be completed this year.
In my first novel, The Dark Frontier, names also play a role. And there is one name in particular that proves a deceptive identifier: Frank. So who exactly is Frank Goss? What kind of Grenzgänger is he? And what does he have to do with Frank Eigenmann, whose given name is actually not Frank at all?