A Pleasure and a Calling
Phil Hogan
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A Pleasure and a Calling
Phil Hogan
288 pages
January 2015
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on A Pleasure and a Calling.

With an extraordinary grasp of character, the author captures the essence of human deviance, its warp and weave, poking into the dark places, exploring what lies below the surface, the cracks and fissures that define the path of a particular man. Mr. Heming strolls into our lives with the insouciance of a madman with stories to tell and secrets to share. Ordinary creatures cannot help but be fascinated by outliers, those who blithely cross the lines. When they whisper their secrets, we are rapt.

In Hogan’s seductive, fascinating tale, a mild-mannered, unobtrusive estate agent buys and sells properties in a leafy English village, a place he has made his home by choice. Defining the parameters of a world in which his special proclivities can be protected and indulged, Mr. William Heming has tested the waters of society in various ways since his troubled childhood, drawing the reader into a private conspiracy. He confides his thoughts, desires and activities, explaining his perspective in beautifully crafted phrases that lull the senses, a new friend with outrageous adventures to impart as his tale unspools. Who can resist such a man? Even the unsettling bits are smoothed over with practiced rationalization, easily cached in memory as current events--even murder--unfold in this quiet village. There is unrequited passion, infidelity, loneliness and betrayal to be understood, all carefully narrated by a man who recognizes no boundaries.

Draping his perceived villains in disloyalty and unsavory behavior, Mr. Heming remains untouchable, a successful agent with a collection of keys and a particular affection for this village, viewing himself as caretaker of the common good. Physically unmemorable, he moves with ease through a society distracted by everyday obligations, unmindful of watchers as they go about their affairs. The bucolic setting of the village does much to calm the senses as Heming conducts his private business, a peaceable kingdom with a harmless protector, not a crime-filled metropolitan city. This is the milieu of the gentleman, not the thug, a place where such a man may live and prosper in spite of temporary indiscretions.

Mr. Heming has crafted an image far beyond the average--a lonely life to be sure, but solitary by choice, one he values more than the need to share his pleasures with another. Charming as the language with which he woos prospective customers, Heming stakes a claim on the imagination long before he confides the particulars of his painful childhood, a boy who might have chosen another path but for circumstances. A confidant, Heming reaches into the psyche of the reader, thrilling as he walks around in the lives of others, exploring their secrets, their fears and longings. Living on the perimeters of these lives, he is content, beautifully mannered. He knows his limits, has tested them and escaped unscathed, vulnerable only when obsession overtakes reason, as is the case with a young woman, Abigail Rice. It is this obsession that nearly undoes the intricate world Heming has so meticulously created. So diligent in maintaining his separateness from others to protect his emotions, a series of self-indulgent actions prove costly and nearly fatal.

Inherently more unsettling than Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, less glaringly evil than Hannibal Lecter, more emotionally aligned with Lindsay’s Dexter, and certainly more nuanced than any of his peers, Hogan’s protagonist is a blend of urbane sophistication and self-serving rationalization. With a knack for elegant description that subverts even the most banal of crimes, Mr. Heming inhabits a world of his own creation, by necessity one with certain comforts and safeguards. Like his fictional contemporaries who thrive in a universe of their own design, Heming’s carefully encapsulated life is built on the ability to enjoy an aberrant lifestyle without attracting notice. And like those others who seduce the unsuspecting for their own entertainment, the real joy--the one than cannot be shared--is that of watching the gullible choke on the poisoned fruit, what was at first so sweet turned to gall.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2015

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