Isobel is a rich Surrey housewife adrift in the world of 'husbands, airports and business'. She has it all yet has nothing.
Peter, her alpha male husband, pays more attention to his phone and doing deals for his high powered international business clients than he does to her.
A chance encounter with a suave stranger who saves her from a sticky situation in a Marakesh souk leads Isobel on a sexual and romantic adventure that turns her life on its head.
Egged on by Maria, her adulterous confidante, Isobel swallows her scruples to embark on a steamy affair with Jay, another but very different sort of wheeler-dealer buziness man to her ice-man husband.
Tom Barry's WHEN THE SIREN CALLS chronciles Isobel's erotic liberation and subsequent fall as the net of lies she plunges into closes in around her.
The story-telling is strong throughout with the romantic lives of the players set against the fortunes of a decidedly questionable time-share complex in Tuscany.
The characters are skillfully drawn, especially Isobel, who felt very real in her hopes, ways, flaws and responses.
A couple of the chapters were also richly witty, farcical almost as the characters sought to further their romantic hopes and dreams.
And sex. There is plenty of sex. But this is not primarily an erotic of sexual story because the sex always feels secondary to the charachters' quests for fulfilment. Lucy, the most overtly sexiest player of all wants marriage and children. The main men, Peter, Jay and Andy, are motivated as much by winning their business power plays as by sex. Indeed, the story is as much about male power as sex. But then don't men seek power as a means to achieve sex, too?
The rivalries between the men are excellently portrayed and give an expertly observed and credible insight into the ways of rich professional men for whom, 'using the rules to your own advantage is not a crime'. This is one of the story's great strengths.
There is also a pleasing balance to the structure of the story and characterisaion with Jay, the lothario, at the cente of a diamond of six women. Isobel with her second, Lucy with her advisor, Rusty his wife. Gina, a luckless employee, completes the pattern.
For me though, the quality of the writing was especially pleaing because of the convincing insights to be had from it. It all felt very grown up and intelligent. For example:
~~ She imagined Tessa must have read about love in books and seen it at the movies but dismissed it as a weak fabrication of a lesser human mind
~~ Lucy lowered her eyes in shame and self-loathing, her eyes coming to rest on his pocket, which revealed the outline of what seemed to be a small square bod, pushing into sharp relief by his still, gentle hand.
~~ (Lucy) blessed with nipples he could hang his umbrella on.
~~ If Isobel had looked down the corridor she would have seen him break into a run as he reached the corner.
~~ (Driving along in a white cabriolet in Tuscany) The cool breeze rendered the sub-beaten landscape no more than a vast and beautiful painting, an idyllic backdrop for their perfection.
~~ when the shit hits the fantasy.
~~ with the iron resolve of a man crushed by an ultimatum.
~~ testosterone rising like mercury in a blast furnace.
~~ the entire opening paragraph of Ch 49.
~~ unable to bear the memory of her own happiness.
~~ because it was easier than resisting.
~~ If you only knew how loose that tongue already is for me.
~~ swirling herself around him in manic, hysterical sadness.
Yes, the writing is definitely investment grade quality, as is the characterisation, as is the story-telling. I loved it. The insights into human nature made me think of D.H.Lawrence at times.