Reviewed by Jim Napier
The opening sentence gets the reader’s immediate attention: “I would have packed less if I knew I was going to die.” Renowned author Jasper Wills is kidnapped within minutes of arriving at Menara airport outside the city of Marrakech. Assuming that the taxi driver would take him to his hotel, he soon finds himself locked in the cab and threatened with a gun. Pistol-whipped, he awakens to discover that he’s bound and gagged, and alone in a darkened room. Jasper uses the time to reflect on recent events in his life: his marriage to Jenn, and the birth of their daughter Michelle years earlier — and then, barely thirteen years later, their daughter’s kidnapping.
The demand had been for ten million dollars, far more than the family could raise. The FBI had been called in and asked them to use the media to appeal to the kidnappers, even offering to supply the money. But in the end, although Jasper and his wife had complied with the kidnappers’ demands, the briefcase was never picked up, and their daughter never came home. The couple’s marriage had not survived the ordeal: shortly before his trip to Marrakech Jenn tells him that she won’t be there when he returns.
As he lay in the isolated room contemplating his fate Jasper tries to make sense of his own kidnapping. Who took him, and why? Was it connected to Jenn’s disappearance? Where was he? Just as he begins to puzzle out his location he is moved, his new prison some distance away in the Atlas Mountains.
The weeks pass, and Jasper Wills grows more and more desperate for even the smallest amenities of life: a toothbrush, a belt. Then he is visited by a mysterious woman who speaks no English. His crusts of stale bread are replaced by delicacies, honey, a small tagine consisting of lamb, apricot and vegetables, even a tiny serving of couscous — all unbelievable luxuries that defy any sort of rational understanding: why starve him to the point of extinction, then reward him with such delights? What is their purpose? The scene is surreal, and before it is ended readers will be taken on a Byzantine journey that will test their own assumptions, their own take on the world. But more — much more — is to come.
Poignant, ingeniously plotted, and exquisitely told, Set Free will keep you on the edge of your seat until you turn the last page. Bidulka is an accomplished writer, with nearly a dozen well-received novels to his credit. But Set Free is heads and shoulders above the rest. At the risk of jinxing this talented writer, his latest work could very well be his breakout novel. Pass on it at your own risk.
Set Free is published by Bon Vivant Books.
Jim Napier is a professional crime-fiction reviewer based in Canada. Since 2005 his book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian newspapers and on multiple websites, and his own novel is scheduled to appear in the Spring. He can be reached at email@example.com
This review can also be seen at The Ottawa Review of Books.