I knew A Pleasure And A Calling by English author Phil Hogan was a thriller when I agreed to read it, and possibly a bit creepy based on the publisher’s description. What I didn’t realize was just how unsettlingly diabolical and creepy it would become. By the time I discovered that, I was completely hooked in a train wreck kind of way and could not have put it down even if I wanted to. Yes, I had to check the closets a time or two. Are you a Hannibal Lector fan? Love to watch Dexter? Did you cheer for Moriarty? Then the obsessive Mr. William Heming is going to be a character who’s right up your alley. He gave me shivers that lasted well beyond the end of the novel. So if you like hard-core thrillers bordering on horror then you’ll be excited that the publisher has given us a copy one of you will win in our giveaway.
“’Of all the many splendid houses you’ve sold in your seventeen years in the business, you just happen to have keys to that particular one?’
‘Of course not – I have keys to them all.’”
Sometimes things get a bit out of hand. They may start perfectly innocently but then they become, well, an obsession. As a young man in boarding school, William Heming was always on the periphery of things. He was envious of those who were popular and, well, let’s just say he went from being curious about the private lives of other students to becoming obsessed by some of them. That obsession resulted in him stealing little fetish items from their rooms and eventually being quite rightly removed from the school while a certain very popular young man, with whom he was extremely obsessed, ended up in the hospital. No, it was not a good thing at all.
“There was a punitive and sudden painful roughing up and swearing and a chair going over, and I suppose I must have pulled free somehow because the next thing I knew there was screaming and commotion and grown-ups running, and at the centre, like a rearing horse, was an injured Marrineau holding his face, roaring displeasure at the heavens.
And so the luck ran out. There was hell to pay, as Aunt Lillian was fond of saying – notably in the demand from Marrineau’s rich and influential parents and their lawyer that I be instantly withdrawn from school. It was either him or me. In return, they agreed not to involve the police.”
That might have been the end of it, although probably not given Heming’s obsessive needs; however, his Aunt Lillian (now his stepmom) got him a position with a real estate broker in a distant village as a way to get him out of her hair. She also needed to get him away from her daughter, who he’d begun obsessing about and spying on in ways she considered unhealthy. Yes, even his own family was creeped out by Hemming and his aunt could not wait to get him out of the house.
Hemming was thrilled when he learned that this charming village’s real estate firm held keys to every house they listed. That was when he realized he had landed exactly where he was always meant to be, so he decided right then to skip university altogether in favor of a career in real estate. He applied himself fully to becoming the model employee and to learning everything he could about the real estate field. He also secretly and quite successfully invested his inheritance from his mother in local real estate. Soon he was not just a trainee but the best real estate agent the firm had ever had.
When the owner decided to retire, the now well-respected Heming acquired the firm and continued to run it as it had always been run. After all, he wasn’t about to mess with his access to all the riches the firm had to offer in the form of keys to every house ever sold there. Heming had full access to the private lives of an entire village, which made access to a few boarding school private lives look like amateur hour. He was in heaven, snooping among people’s private and personal belongings, following them like a detective around town, spying on them with hidden cameras, learning all their secrets, and taking little fetishes to his well-hidden home to remind him of them. He rationalized snooping when selling a house as a way to know what sellers really wanted from the sale vs. what they said they wanted but the truth was that he was hopelessly addicted to it. You might even call him a connoisseur of others’ private lives because he savored it in the same way some might savor a fine meal.
“I know now that you can’t know everything about everyone. You have to think of it as a thrilling, ongoing project. Crossing the threshold of a strange house is like the opening line of a gripping story. At its best, penetrating deeper, it is like falling in love.
So, even as I locked the door, I knew I had to go back…How I came to adore those people! When I sat down with an album of photographs they had taken one summer in the Canary Islands, I felt the sun on my own face; heard with my own ears the cries of their fellow holidaymakers across the blue pool. It delighted me to follow their busy schedule, chart their routines gleaned from the calendar hanging from a magnetized hook on the fridge or from the grey desk diary in the sideboard drawer in the hall where I left my mark (the first of many in this town) scraped inside the walnut case of an old chiming clock.”
But Heming didn’t stop there. Let’s just say that he also periodically righted what he considered to be wrongs, i.e., he carried out revenge for actual or presumed wrongs committed against him and people he cared about. He also removed the occasional impediment to his plans. And that’s kind of where a librarian named Abigail comes into the picture. When Heming first saw her, he was entranced much the same way he had once been entranced by Marrineau. Soon he became obsessed with this lovely much younger woman, so it’s probably logical that he is righteously indignant when he learns she’s involved with a much older married man, who Heming assumes is taking advantage of her innocence. And the rest? Well, there are a few dead bodies but you’ll have to read the novel to find out more.
“I watched Abigail and the trolley disappear slowly into A-L, then strode casually up to the door, punched 5-1-5-9-4 into the grey metal panel and pushed it open. The door closed behind me. A wave of urgency hit me as my senses took in the scene…[I] resumed my search with renewed anxiety. The backpack now – its top pocket containing paperback, earphones, shopping list. Bundled inside, a yellow jumper. Another compartment. I unzipped it. And now, here on its own, wedged into the fold, was a single key with a circular wooden fob painted green. I squeezed it tight then slipped it into my pocket. I didn’t think about it yet. What it meant…”
Instead of discussing the characters with you, I’ve decided to provide a brief excerpt from a piece the author wrote for Publishers Weekly about his narrator, Mr. Heming. “I didn’t allow myself the luxury of wondering how Heming’s plea to the reader might be going down at any given moment…I can see now that there are wry laughs to be had in Heming’s mistaken assumption that his audience, once in possession of all the facts, will be with him all the way. For me it was challenge enough to have the reader spend quality time in Heming’s company despite their ethical differences, to not want bad things for him, and – who knows – perhaps even discover the maniac in themselves.”
And here’s the thing, despite being appalled by Mr. Heming, that’s exactly what happened! And that alone speaks to the masterful writing in A Pleasure And A Calling, at least for me. I could not believe that on the one hand, I wanted this man put into a soft padded cell somewhere, but on the other hand I felt empathy for him despite his behavior being diametrically opposed to everything I hold dear – Agh! If you love psychological thrillers that sneak up on you, then I’m recommending this one. But a word of caution: You might want to change the locks on your doors first.
Can’t wait to read it?
A Pleasure And A Calling was published in the U.S. on January 6, 2015, so it’s available now from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). That means you can download it now and have it to read tonight (with all the lights on after putting new locks on the doors). Of course it’s also available as a regular book too.
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One lucky reader will win a finished hardcover copy of A Pleasure And A Calling by Phil Hogan!
1) The deadline for entries is Saturday night, 1/24/2015, at 11:59pm EDST. No entries after that date/time will be eligible.
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