Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on A Pleasure and a Calling.
After William Heming clashes with his cousin Isobel, his father sends him to a school far from Norfolk, where he spends much of his life cultivating “a middling, willing sociability.“ While waiting his turn and playing his part, William’s fascination with a boy called Marrineau suddenly goes wrong. Aunt Lilian ultimately comes to the rescue, finding for him a private sixth-form college and then a summer job at a firm of estate agents. William’s breath quickens when he acknowledges
that he’s bound to the category of “uninvited guest,” especially after his aging boss tells him that the owners just “give them the keys.”
Hogan writes in an essentially British style, telling his dark, moody, and unsettling tale from the perspective of one who understands his hero’s deepest, darkest secrets. A character drawn directly from the world of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, Hogan imbues William--his perennial snooper--with a keen sense of how people operate.
That attribute holds him in good stead as he makes a new life in a leafy, bustling town only forty-eight minutes by fast train from the center of London. While William tells us to think of him as “the invisible brother, or uncle or boyfriend,” we witness the stimulation he needs when he finds himself alone with yet “another house to plunder.” Like a boy, he’s happiest pursuing some goose chase of his own making and lost without one.
William has a bond of kinship with this small town that took him into its bosom. He returns the favor by watching over its interests. He readily admits that he has the keys to all the town’s houses. Collating his prying with photographs, notes, and downloaded files from his phone, William is often exhausted in his efforts as he crosses the threshold of yet another strange house: “it's like the opening pages of a gripping story...like falling in love.” These secret fascinations often lead nowhere, left mysteriously incomplete like a Sherlock Holmes detective novel.
While William’s general wish is to keep people happy and life rolling smoothly, he pulls off unbelievable and almost unspeakable acts with the finesse and skill of a master jeweler and the audacity of a veteran politician. He’s like a fairy godfather or a ministering angel. Still, there are people who need to be firmly dealt with, such as Douglas Sharp, who William discovers is a textbook philanderer and predator. The quaint Victorian house on Raistrick Road is Sharp’s secret love nest
where he meets beautiful Abigail for clandestine assignations. William decides he wants to savor a final frisson of triumph over Sharp, and there’s a sense that Sharp is not quite beaten without William’s “phallic coup de grace.”
Hogan’s impressionistic style plunges us deep into William’s calculating mind, allowing us to view with aplomb his hero’s mild-mannered sidebars. The adoration we feel towards William is actually a mixture of loyalty, obsession and unrealistic expectation. William’s transition to cold, calculating murderer flows unperturbed even when his activities are deemed acceptable. As William becomes more attracted to Abigail, the novel takes several dark and unexpected turns. William’s youth, meanwhile, is presented to us in fragmented flashbacks: “that breathtaking presence and nearness
in which I had invested as an observer and devotee and clandestine attic lodger.”
As Hogan’s murder thriller unfolds, we are privy to William’s internal dramas as he tries to stay one step ahead of the local police detectives.
The gorgeous prose compels us to revel in the darker side of constantly scheming William.
Like Tom Ripley, William’s need for self-preservation is the key factor in a droll and rather ironic story about the nature of fate and one man’s changing circumstances.