The Gordian Knot, Bernhard Schlink's latest novel, is a curiously two-paced affair. Opening in rural France in the late Cold War era, we meet Georg Polger, the book's unlucky protagonist. Polger scratches out a living as a freelance translator of technical manuals while lamenting his status as a lonely man drifting, debt-ridden through his late thirties.
His fortunes are transformed overnight by the mysterious Mr Bulkanov, who not only provides Polger with more work than he knows what to do with, but encourages him to develop a relationship with Françoise, his attractive young secretary. Predictably, love blossoms. When Françoise disappears, however, the book's plot leaves the gentle trajectory of a slowly fizzing love story and takes on the path of a turbo-charged John Grisham thriller.
The action switches unexpectedly to New York, after a hunch persuades Polger that Françoise must have left Europe. Cue a series of wild-goose chases before the translator finally untangles the knot of deceit that confronts him and Schlink delivers the kind of neat happy ending that Grisham himself would be proud of.