On Cape Three Points Paperback – 2 May 2003
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...a smart little novel about identity, with a protagonist largely in flight from himself. -- Rachel Hore in Guardian, June 2003
A genuinely disturbing psychological thriller - 4 stars -- FHM magazine, June 2003
The novel's hero finds himself launched into a shadowy underworld. You can all but see Jude Law in the movie. -- Radar Magazine
This is a thriller, all right. But one with a subplot that makes for intriguing psychological ambiguity. -- Newsday, April 17, 2003
Wakling can turn a phrase. He is often very funny, too, with a delightfully oblique slant on events. -- Toby Clements in Daily Telegraph, May 2003
'Thirteen days ago I made a mistake. A momentary slip, but enough to launch me into freefall, a life unravelling in my wake' Lewis Penn's single mistake was to change his life forever. A junior lawyer at the successful law firm, Madison & Vere, he quietly strikes deals, sits in the shadows in meetings and clicks through emails. Whenever he can, he visits his terminally ill brother. His life is altogether routine and fairly uneventful. Then one day he is trusted with a file that contains highly confidential paperwork...and subsequently loses it. Lewis' desperate attempts to retrace his steps are in vain, his client is trying to reach him on the phone, his job is on the line - he needs to find that file fast. But every move Lewis makes seems to be the wrong one, and when his home is ransacked, he becomes convinced he is being pursued. Driven to extreme, reckless, even paranoid, behaviour, Lewis is reassured by a mysterious email: an offer of help. But by now his whole world seems to be spiralling dangerously out of control...See all Product description
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Intentions are trumpeted from the first lines, the now well-quoted "Thirteen days ago I made a mistake. A momentary slip, but enough to launch me into freefall, a life unravelling in my wake."
Indeed, we're given a sketch of our narrator before we even turn that first page: Lewis Penn, mid-twenties, successful business lawyer with ginormous London law firm Madison & Vere, a penchant for detail; a deal striker, a note-taker, a pen pusher, a man taking the middle ground to get to the higher plains the conventional way. Half a dozen pages later and the 'momentary slip' happens. Entrusted with a file of confidential papers, Lewis loses them and tries to cover his tracks rather than admit his error.
And essentially that's all you need to know, because the details of circumstance are ultimately of little importance. All you really need to be aware of is that Lewis has mucked up, and royally. Every step he takes bounces him further and further into touch, but our interest – and this is where Wakling diverts smartly away from the roller coaster ride of your ten-a-penny-dreadful first novel tyros – relies less and less on events and much more critically on the moral and psychological rewiring his fallible protagonist is forced to undertake. It also helps that what we have here is good writing, neat turns of phrase and something with substantial literary merit behind it. Wakling a) knows what he's talking about and b) enjoys describing it.
Anyway ... increasingly, steadily, Lewis's paranoia begins to take hold. He can only confide in one person, his dying brother, Dan, but as Lewis's life begins to fall apart, it appears that Dan's is also coloured by deception. The graceless, faltering arc takes Lewis from London to Washington DC and back to London, but every move he makes, every decision he reaches is the wrong one, and when his home is turned upside down, he becomes convinced he is being pursued.
Lewis, a man keen on detail, is following a career path that makes anal retention a godly virtue. One tiny step outside the circle and the architecture creaks. One further step, and another, and it crumbles. In a way it reminded me of the best of Cronenberg, a man also keen to prove that beneath a tiny veneer of skin there's a world of horror waiting for us. As a study of human foibles, with an all too imperfect hero at its core, a clever take on identity and something significantly removed from what you might expect, On Cape Three Points is a considerable achievement.
But On Cape Three Points is about rather more than that - the novel skirts Grishamville and keeps going. At its heart is an examination of free will and moral responsibility. Big subjects. And perhaps not the sexy stuff of a gripping read. But Wakling’s technique, an achievement in a first novel, is to harness the machinery of the thriller - tight plotting, the tantalising drip-feed disclosure of information - to power his true purpose: confronting the reader with the consequences of complacency and a life lived thoughtlessly. Lewis Penn, the lawyer whose testimony forms the narrative, turns out to be as desperate to escape himself as to evade the clutches of the all-powerful and apparently all-knowing Ukrainian underworld.
Plenty of allegory in that relationship and elsewhere in the book, too. But irrespective of whether you read ‘On Cape Three Points’ with an eye to such things or simply follow Penn’s story at face value, you will come across passages of extremely evocative writing and the occasional, unexpected undercurrent of black humour, both sustaining the novel’s claim to be a ‘literary' thriller.
The risks taken in cross-genre writing such as this are considerable: the tired formula ‘a bit like X with a touch of Y under the influence of Z (on acid)’ amounts more often than not to a publisher's makeover for an author who is unsure of what he is trying to achieve.
Wakling was evidently undaunted and has produced a book one of whose chief merits is precisely that it is not at all easy to define yet knows exactly what it wants to say.