Published by Picador
Publication date: January 6th 2015
Invisibility has for so long been the linchpin to my favourite, most memorable moments.
Mr. Heming is exactly what one wants in a real estate agent—quiet, innocuous, and well-versed in the pros and cons of a neighborhood or a house itself. He imposes none of his own opinions but merely shares his knowledge and leads the buyer to the perfect house as determined by his practiced eye. He is the man who makes one so comfortable it would not be possible to think poorly of him…or really, to think of him at all. How disconcerting, then, would it be to know that he keeps a key of your house in a special room in his flat? And not just your house but every house he’s ever sold. This is the real estate agent as seen by British author Phil Hogan in his new novel, A Pleasure and a Calling.
Hogan strikes the perfect balance of maliciousness with solicitousness in Mr. Heming. He is as likely to right a wrong as he is to stalk someone he feels has committed a crime. This is how he comes into contact with Douglas Sharp, a man who does not feel inclined to clean up after his dog. This is for Heming’s to use his vast knowledge of the neighborhood to exact his own small justice on the man, a justice that goes horribly awry when Heming cannot resist greater intrusion into his private life. As he discovers more about Mr. Sharp and the secret compartments of his life he goes further in his actions and brings unwanted attention to himself, for as much as Mr. Heming knows about others very little is known about him.
A Pleasure and a Calling works as a psychological thriller because you can’t help being drawn into Heming’s odd and creepy mind but, to use real estate jargon, the book suffers a bit from a choppy layout, in that Hogan moves back and forth to Heming’s childhood at irregular intervals and in some cases right in the midst of the present day tension which is disorienting. He also alludes to Heming’s childhood, with his mother’s death, a baby brother, his father’s marriage to his aunt…things that are critical to a full understanding of how this man thinks but he does it so subtly and briefly its importance is easy to overlook. Obviously, Heming has deep issues but how far down they go is unclear as is just how unstable and malevolent is his mind.
Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Heming is a great realtor and will lead you to the house of your dreams. Whether he will leave you alone in it is another matter altogether. By exploiting the duality in Heming’s nature in A Pleasure and a Calling Hogan takes the reader on a twisty ride. His love for every house in his town is matched only by his belief that, as owner, you must be worthy to live there. And locking your doors at night is not enough to keep him away.
But this is the place I sleep, surrounded by my keys, of course—shimmering on every wall under the dimmed lights like gold and silver, each opening a lock in a portal to pleasure and adventure. I go to sleep counting sometimes. I have no idea how many hundreds or thousands there are…