DISCLAIMER: Before reading this A Pleasure and a Calling review, I definitely would not recommend this book if you are in the process of selling or buying a house.
What is it about creeps that captivate the modern reader? Think about literary characters. There is Patrick Bateman in American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, or Barbra Covett in Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller, and not forgetting the archetypal villain, Norman Bates in Psycho by Robert Bloch. As Charles Dickens knew, we love a good fright hidden in something familiar.
Now to add to the cast of sociopaths in the world of the written word we have Mr. Heming. He appears in the brilliantly creepy A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan. This character is an estate agent, a consummate professional and outwardly noble citizen who loves the still tranquillity of the suburban village he chooses to reside in. But behind his air of real estate expertise, he is a prowler who snoops on the people he sells houses to. He copies the keys of the properties once sold and has an inventory of facts and notes on all the owners and their families. Heming scrutinises their schedules with microsurgical precision, sneaking into their private homes when unoccupied to have a cup of tea, sit in a favourite chair, or forage in their refrigerators. Sometimes he steals souvenirs, mere insignificant items, trophies of his triumph in deception.
What appears at first to be the descriptions of an eccentric yet disturbed gentleman start to transform into that of a warped sociopath who becomes increasingly more and more toxic. Heming becomes obsessed with an arrogant lothario, Mr Sharp and his steamy affair with an English rose, librarian Abigail.
Phil Hogan’s novel analyses what lies beneath. Behind the carefully manicured lawns and conservatories, behind the closed doors of the dream homes, there is a malignancy slowly choking. A chilling novel that is like witnessing a car crash, you don’t want to look but still do. This piece of fiction will offer you a sinister perspective of suburbia and is all the more unsettling because the deception takes place in a domestic setting.
I can liken it to the way the original John Carpenter horror film Halloween was all the more harrowing because the action took place in the ‘safety’ of suburbia. The very title of the book A Pleasure and a Calling ignited an inner debate in the aftermath of reading it, on whether this was appropriate or not, fitting or in fact bad taste?
Here among strangers belongings is where I am most at home, moving quietly and surely. I know where they keep their private things, how they arrange their lives. I follow their plans and make mine around them. I try not to enquire deeply into the why, but humbly accept my gift, the exhilaration of being here, of breathing the air at this altitude. I will confess there is ritual. I leave my mark using the key to a red moneybox my mother gave me. I will eat or drink something, perhaps take a small keepsake – a teaspoon, a sock. But I also have my standards. No hidden cameras, wires or microphones are used in the making of my ‘Art.’ I don’t peep through windows. Where is the pleasure in that? I am not a stalker, or a voyeur. I am simply sharing an experience, a life as it happens.
Think of me as an invisible brother or uncle or boyfriend. I’m no trouble.
What disturbed me about Heming’s antics was that it tapped into a deep rooted phobia of my very own. On occasion over the years I have come home to an empty flat or house and had a strange instinct that it felt like someone had been there before I arrived. A smell of coffee, a burnt match or just a scent that I don’t recognise. But then I cast it out of my mind. This book evoked that memory and I wonder if others who read it have had similar experiences? Will my A Pleasure and a Calling review inspire you to pick up a copy?