As he starts to tell his story William Heming, the first person narrator of Phil Hogan’s psychological thriller A Pleasure and A Calling may strike the reader as inoffensive and not particularly memorable, but it doesn’t take too long for a darker side to gradually make itself felt, a side that grows darker and darker the more he reveals about himself.
Heming runs a successful real estate firm in a pleasant English village, and he seems to feel a sense of responsibility to the community. He admonishes a dog owner who fails to clean up his dog’s mess on the street. He helps an elderly woman whose parked car has been damaged by a hit and run motorist. But things begin to change, Heming, it turns out, as real estate agent, has managed to keep for himself keys to all the various houses he and his firm have been selling over the years. At first it seems he is using them for legitimate purposes, showing property when the owners are away, checking for problems and such—nothing particularly untoward.
Except that mild mannered, unobtrusive Heming has been using these keys to snoop into these houses when the owners are out, hide away and silently spy on them when they returned. He might wander when no one was around and make himself breakfast. He would walk off with bits and pieces of their lives, nothing necessarily valuable, but something personal. He sees himself as a kind of collector of people’s essences. Indeed, this is something he has been doing since he was a child—hiding, observing and taking away a remembrance. While this in itself would be strange enough, there are hints aplenty that there may be other problems. Of course, as it is Heming telling the story, hints take time to blossom into certainties, but eventually it becomes clear that mild mannered Mr. Heming, a person no-one pays much attention to is not who people think he is.
It is in Hogan’s handling of Heming’s slowly pointed self-revelation through his own voice that the brilliance of the novel is achieved. Unreliable narrators have become fairly commonplace in literature, and Heming, in his view of the morality of what he is doing and has done is certainly unreliable. Still Hogan manages to create a voice both unreliable, amoral and almost charming. The unassuming Heming is not as bland as he seems. Just as he seduces the characters in the novel, he seduces the reader, until a point is reached when seduction is no longer possible.
A Pleasure And A Calling is an enthralling psychological thriller. It unwinds subtly, drawing the reader into the mind of a character readers should abhor, yet may well find if not attractive at the least engaging. William Heming, a man no one takes notice of, is a man readers will remember.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=125006063X]