Henry Hayden is one of those very successful writers who pumps out one best-selling thriller after another. His success saved the publishing house that discovered his first manuscript, he's charming to the fans who seek him out in the coastal village where he lives with his quiet wife, Martha, and he is modest and generous. Now, which of these things isn't true? As we find out right off the bat, it isn't Henry who is the writer, but Martha––though not a soul besides the couple knows that.
When Betty, Henry's editor and mistress tells him she's pregnant, Henry's carefully-arranged life threatens to unravel. Henry's quick fix goes awry and he has to engage in more and more complex schemes to avoid exposure of his current misdeeds––and the revelation of his past by an old acquaintance who promises to turn into a nemesis.
You might have figured out by now that Henry is a sociopath and this is one of those books (like Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley novels, for example) that invites us to identify with the amoral lead character. It was hard to do that at first; Henry is just too cold. But as we learn more about Henry, a bit of a thaw comes. Even if it's only admiration of Henry's skill at constructing complex schemes to wriggle out of trouble.
|illustration from The New York Times|
There isn't much sense of place; in fact, I couldn't tell you where this is supposed to be set, other than that it's a coastal town and it's somewhere in Europe. I would also say that it's not nearly as skilled in roping the reader into "sympathy for the devil" as Phil Hogan’s A Pleasure and a Calling (one of my favorite reads of last year), but it's a quick and entertaining read.
Note: I received a free advance review copy of the book. Versions of this review may appear on Amazon, BookLikes and other reviewing sites under my usernames there.