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Can a reader root for a creep...
on 14 July 2014
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.