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on 13 December 2014
After reading this dark and chilling thriller, you will be deleting all those real estate agent contacts from your life, looking for ways to sell your house privately! Real estate agents have never been Top of the Pops in most admired or trusted professions, and most of us have a shady story or two to tell about our dealings with them. But I bet none of us know an agent such as William Heming!

Mr Heming has been an agent in an attractive English town for many years. He is part of the local landscape, respected, well liked it would seem, does his job well, and leads an unremarkable average sort of life. But, how would you feel if you knew that he kept the key of every single house he had sold over the past twenty plus years, and had them displayed on a wall in his home? And that he used these keys to enter the homes of his clients, buyers and vendors alike, finding out every detail of their lives, their bank accounts, their families, their holidays, their pets? Mr Heming is that man.

So much does he love his neighbourhood and many of the people that live in it, he uses his knowledge and his expertise to actually protect and help many of them. He is decidedly creepy, but it is when he his behaviour begins to do more harm than good that things get really chilling. The undoing of Mr Heming's carefully built up veneer begins when a body is discovered by the swimming pool on the property of the Cooksons, who would clearly fill the shoes of nightmarish vendors to be dealing with. During the course of Mr Heming dealing with this situation, he tells us the story of how he came to be involved in real estate, his childhood, and his obsessive streak of curiosity that leads and saves him from so much trouble. He walks a very fine line, but from his story, as a lonely, neglected and misunderstood child, we see how the decidedly unhinged sociopathic Mr Heming evolved. You will like and dislike Mr Heming in equal amounts, which is what makes this book so enjoyable and fun to read - what will he do next, and how will that exactly pan out?

This is a creepy, blackly comic, chilling, macabre and bizarre story, and you will never walk past a real estate office, which incidentally are everywhere if you care to look hard enough, without the hairs on the back of your neck lifting ever so slightly.Would make a great movie, with someone like Kevin Spacey or James Spader in the title role.
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“This is who I am, guardian of the plans, though I have no plans of my own, of course.”

Mr Heming owns and operates his own real estate agent. He loves his community, and wants all the people who live there to have the best lives they can. He takes a personal interest in them all, and in their houses – a very personal interest. In fact, he wants so badly to ensure that all is well with you, as an inhabitant of the same community as him, that he has kept a copy of the key to your house, and is inclined to pop in when you’re not there. Sometimes he’s even there at the same time as you, but you won’t see him.

Creepy? Definitely. But this story, told by William Heming himself, is somewhat removed from the creepiness that we might feel, because Heming doesn’t think that what he does is creepy at all. Rather, it’s a paternal eye he keeps on us all, and he does his best to make everything run smoothly for those who deserve it. So when Heming one day sees a man emerge from 4 Boselle Avenue – a house he remembers selling a few years earlier – he is curious, because he doesn’t recognise the man. When the dog the man is walking leaves a mess which the man rudely refuses to remove, Heming is determined to make it all well.

This is an absolutely wonderful tale. The tale unfolds as it is told by Heming, and is interspersed with recollections of his life as he grew up. It is slowly and with a sense of some awful dread that the reader reads between the lines of Heming’s own tale, and very carefully, we can begin to piece together things that Heming is not actually saying out loud (as it were) to us. That’s when the real creepiness of this story really hits you. The story is a total page-turner. I couldn’t put it down from beginning to end, and I was utterly enthralled by the whole story, and by Heming himself. I could imagine tales like this unfolding in suburban streets all around us every day – very creepy. Totally recommended.
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Can a reader root for a creep of a protagonist without being a creep themselves? I often ask myself this question, particularly when reading a book like Phil Hogan's new novel, "A Pleasure and a Calling".

Okay, William Heming, an estate agent in a small town, has both an odd past and an odd present. I suspect his future is even odder, but thanks god we're not privy to that in this book. Heming is cipher; he exists in the flesh but doesn't leave much of a mark in peoples' conscienceness. He owns an estate company and some other financial entities but has very little personal life, other than what he can glean from other peoples' daily existence. Heming has a nasty habit of keeping the keys to the houses he sells and has keys from 20 years back. (One question the reader MIGHT ask is why buyers don't immediately change the locks of their new houses upon moving in. I live in the US and I've never heard of not doing so, but maybe they don't in the UK???)So, William Heming can slip in and out of nearly every house in the village. And he's able to go through desks and drawers, finding out the residents deepest secrets, which he hoards in his own little mind. His world doesn't include others; his employees are just that, employees, and he discarded his own familial ties years and years before.

As I noted above, Heming's "past" was an odd combination of family tragedy and school-boy rejection. Mysterious incidents occurred when William was around; deaths of children most particularly. Nothing could ever be solidly attributed to William but his general creepiness turned off even the staunchest of would-be defenders. As an adult, mysterious death follows William as he gains financially in the real estate market, until one day the deaths become attributable to him. As a reader, I was both fascinated and repelled - equally - how he handled the problems he had gotten himself into.

Hogan's book isn't for the weak-at-heart. The murders are blatant and the police investigations just don't tie everything up. Can anyone get away with murder? Clearly, so. Can we root for the creep that's doing the murders? I've read the book and I still cannot decide.
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on 3 May 2014
This is one of those stories which takes its time – not in the sense of dragging its heels, but more like a good meal which insists that you properly savour each course. And as the tale unwinds, it is a meal of many courses with a little more of the plot and back story being revealed each time …
At the beginning of the book we share estate agent William Heming’s sense of righteous indignation at the minor injustices he observes taking place around him. We even enjoy the justice he metes out to those deserving of it – even the somewhat excessive punishment received by one person, which is both ingenious and comic. But gradually William is revealed as being a rather different character than that implied at the onset. His sense of justice turns out to be somewhat skewed: he appears to morally amoral – or should that be afflicted by amoral morals? As matters progress and we discover more about William, we grow less comfortable and begin to perceive that he is less on the side of the angels than he thinks he is: nevertheless when he picks up that golf club it still succeeds in being a shock.
It’s a terrific bit of storytelling and by the end you are in two minds – will he be caught or not? And while a part of you wants him to be caught, another hopes he will escape justice himself, despite his cold blooded attitude to murder and general creepiness. It’s a book which you won’t forget in a hurry – but which will send you scampering to change your locks …
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Rarely do you read a book which is totally original, creepy, delightfully and darkly funny and enjoyable from cover to cover. I am pleased to say that this is such a book. Estate agent William Heming lives in a leafy and prosperous community. He is successful, self employed and adept at reading people. However, Heming has a secret – he has the keys of every house he has sold and he is more familiar with his clients lives, and their properties, than you might expect...

When Heming has an altercation with a man in a park, he engineers a small revenge. However, when he becomes infatuated with the man’s girlfriend, events spiral out of control. This wonderful novel gradually unravels the life of William Heming from a small boy who hid in wardrobes, to a grown man who hides in the attics of his clients. A man you are unlikely to remember, who is adept at staying anonymous, but whose deepest, and darkest, desires are unleashed in the privacy of other people’s homes.

It is hard to review this book without giving away the plot and I have no wish to spoil the story. As we learn more about William Heming, we should dislike him – but that is hard to do. He is as unique as this book, which I suppose you could call a literary crime novel. This deserves to be a huge success and it has found its way into my favourite reads of the year without doubt.

I received a copy of the novel from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 January 2015
Move over Hannibal Lector, Mr. Heming is in town. Phil Hogan has created a highly original remarkably creepy sociopath who holds you in thrall simply because he appears to be so normal. Mr. Heming, a real estate agent, is one of those people who simply blends into the scenery, no one notices him as he goes about his task of injecting himself into the lives of others.

Over seventeen years Mr. Heming has sold a number of lovely homes, and he has kept the keys to all of them. (He simply copies the original key and adds it to his personal collection. ) With such easy entree he's able to read personal correspondence, see what clothes are worn and even what clients like to eat and drink. He relishes these moments, actually revels in being privy to the lives of others. At times he will change objects in a home or perhaps take a small something as a souvenir. It is an obsession, one that may be at least partially explained by his difficult childhood, younger years marked by accidents, unexplained disappearances.

Nonetheless, in the small English village in which he now lives Mr. Heming is admired and trusted by many including his office staff. He is extremely careful until his orderly life is disrupted by Abigail Rice, a young woman to whom he sold a house. He finds himself inordinately attracted to her, and is distressed to find she is having an affair with Douglas Sharp, a married man and another of Mr. Heming's clients. Sharp is a ne'er do well and a scoundrel, living off of his older wife. And then a dead body is discovered in the backyard of another client's home.

Readers will find themselves compulsively turning pages until the final line. Hogan has given us a chilling tale of psychological suspense that we will not soon forget.

- Gail Cooke
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on 16 March 2015
William Heming is an unlikely hero. Firstly he's an estate agent, secondly he has a penchant for voyeurism and being an uninvited "hider-in-the-house", but most disturbingly, many of those he comes into contact with tend to die. So why a "hero"? Well maybe it's the first person narrative structure (for the chapters in the present, anyway) that draws you into his confidence, or maybe it's the fact that he seems to do good things for bad reasons, but it's hard not to end up rooting for this creepy key-collector, as impending doom closes in on him. Do his crimes pay-off, or does his sale fall through? I won't spoil the end, but for me, after an exciting build-up, come the completion date I couldn't help feeling like I'd been gazumped.
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on 8 July 2015
This is a clever & original idea for a story, as far as I'm aware, & the writing is competent & fluent. It is at times quite amusing but this only adds to the rather chilling effect created by a narrator (&perpetrator) Mr Heming, who talks of his furtive & sometimes deadly deeds in a chatty, confiding voice. He is, as others have said, a sociopath of a kind, though whether 'realistically' so is open to question.
He covertly involves himself, you might say immerses himself, in other people's intimate lives, & sometimes as he deems appropriate or necessary he interferes in them. I'm not quite sure why he does the former, nosiness, a kind of thrilling because one-sided intimacy, or out of a sense of the power it gives him. Probably all these things. As for his interference, on occasion it might be called charitable, but more often it is malicious & even deadly. One of the clever aspects of the book is that his confiding voice & his believable descriptions of their nastiness leads us to approve the less fatal pranks he plays on certain unpleasant characters.
At the beginning of his narration Mr Heming seems ordinary enough, but even here there hints of darker things to come. These are gradually expanded upon throughout until he has confided the full horror of cruel or violent deeds throughout his life. Although the only horror for him is when things escalate as he attempts to conceal his guilt concerning one crime by committing another, desperately devising ways to avoid suspicion
The last chapter is disappointingly less of a bang, more of a whimper, although all the loose ends are tied up so it doesn't really mar the book.
I was undecided whether to give this book 3 stars or 4. As I said it is clever, entertaining & well written, but in spite of the complexities of the plot I found it rather lightweight.
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A seriously creepy and unnerving novel with a devastatingly unreliable narrator, you may find yourself eyeing your local estate agent with some distrust. For Mr William Heming is a man whose life revolves around his clients in a very special way. Take for example, his collection of keys. He always has an extra key made for a new house, and one of them is always placed in his collection.

We slowly learn the unextraordinary details of his past. He lived with his Aunt, who had replaced his mother, who had died soon afterwards. There was a particular incident in his childhood that might have explained a good deal about him, had anyone wished to delve deeper into a road accident which killed a small girl. An accident that no one could connect with the ten year-old boy who lived in the same street. But his liking for tight places, the inside of wardrobes for instance, might have been fruitfully explored. As might another accident which robbed a young man of an eye.

His life assumed a charmed aspect when he joined the firm of Mower and Mower and his predilictions took the route to an extraordinary obsession. He often visited the houses he sold, but most often when the owners were absent. Don’t presume, however, that he stole items, or if he did, they were things that would not be missed. A slice of cake, a ball of rubber bands, a fabric hairband…

Then he was drawn into the life of a young woman, and Mr Heming found himself capable of much stronger feelings and stronger actions, when his reputation, ultimately, comes under police suspicion. This is a distinctly creepy novel, wonderfully ingenious and totally compulsive.
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on 25 November 2014
Not that I haven't got enough books of my own, but having seen a few reviews of this recent release, I was interested enough to reserve it at my local library. Currently of the 25 scores on Amazon UK, 15 give it top marks and 10 settle for 4 stars, with no dissenting voices as yet.

Our narrator is Mr Heming, a small town estate agent with a propensity for copying and keeping client's keys, allowing him access to come and go from their lives as he sees fit. His passion is in knowing everything about everyone..... where you work, what you eat, where you shop, what you earn, etc. He'll rifle through your drawers, but whilst he'll take a small memento, he won't get his thrills from stealing your wife's panties.

"Think of me as an invisible brother or uncle or boyfriend. I'm no trouble. I may be there when you are, or when you are gone, or more likely just before you arrive. I agree it is an idea that takes some getting used to. But do we not all have a life to make, to mould it somehow around that of others, to search for the dovetail that seems best to fit?"

Creepy, unsettling and disturbing. The more we get to know William; the flashbacks to incidents from his childhood help and the more he rationalises his behaviour, the more you realise you are in the presence of a seriously deranged individual, with enough of a cloak of respectability and invisibility to pass himself off as normal.

Incidents at school and with neighbourhood children, allow his closest relatives to glean a glimpse at the malevolence lurking within the real Heming. Adulthood and a fortuitous route into a career in estate agency, allows him opportunity to perfect his art.

Some deft interventions allow Heming to almost convince us that his role is as a benign guardian of his town - disruptions to unwanted residents of his neighbourhood and an unsubtle campaign of dirty tricks....... credit card orders for holidays and garden furniture, pipes suddenly leaking, travelling tarmac contractors arriving unexpectedly...... before you know it, the unwanted have been vanquished and Heming has restored order and balance to his community.

An incident with an un-scooped dog turd and a row with Douglas Sharp, the dog owner changes the course of Heming's life. Soon after having honed his radar on Sharp, his attentions are drawn to Abigail, Sharp's mistress. Heming's new obsession sets in motion a violent change of events. Whether William Heming survives the fall-out depends on the lengths he's prepared to go.

Always interesting with never a dull moment, I enjoyed Hogan's book. Whilst it was impossible to like Heming, I never disliked him and could understand and empathise with some of actions which were incredibly funny on occasions. I must admit I'm with him as regards poetry is concerned... "Poetry, I admit is the locked room to which my mind cannot quite be relied upon to find the key," Hopefully that's where our similarities end!

4 from 5

Borrowed from Leighton Buzzard library.

Phil Hogan is an author and journalist. He has previously written 3 other novels and has published a collection of his columns about family life. I don't have any of his other books, but wouldn't rule out reading him again in the future.
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