James Lasdun’s new psychological thriller The Fall Guy is a story that turns morality, friendship and hidden secrets on its axis. Richer than Midas, moneyed banker Charlie invites his estranged and troubled cousin Matthew to stay with him and his wife Chloe in their grand mountaintop home. While everything is fine at the beginning, soon the truths that each of them are carefully trying to conceal begin to strain the relationship between them.
Charlie hides a secret from Chloe, something that only Matthew knows and is only too eager to emotionally blackmail Charlie with in order to maintain his silence. Chloe in turn, indulges in a heated affair with a well-known filmmaker whom she claims entices her body but not her heart, which surprisingly seems to solely belong to the husband she is repeatedly and callously betraying. Matthew finds himself predictably enough falling for Chloe, torn between the excitement he feels at the possibility of snatching Charlie’s wife away and rage when he discovers Chloe’s secret, prompting him to ponder how he can maybe kill two birds with one stone.
Lasdun’s novel slightly hints at Jacques Deray’s 1970 film La Piscine, both boasting an exotic setting, unspoken secrets and impulsive desires amidst a dizzying, scorching heat. The Fall Guy may not be a terribly intellectual novel or even a very clever one, but it is engrossing and suspenseful enough to inspire an eager interest for its eventual unexpected outcome. Lasdun outlines characters who are nothing short of despicable and unscrupulous, but who also make the story engrossing enough to keep us following along until the end, much like the proverbial accident you can’t look away from.
Nothing in this novel is transparent or clear-cut, and this is perhaps Lasdun’s greatest accomplishment; to slowly remove the blindfold and patiently wait while we get used to the glare, as we try to decipher who is the real criminal, and who the true victim.
Author’s note: This book review is based on an advanced reader’s copy provided by Netgalley and the publisher.