A PLEASURE AND A CALLING. By Phil Hogan. Picador. 288 pages. $25.
William Heming is the proverbial quiet man, nondescript, keeping to himself, mastering "the skill of being likable, but not memorable." Yet Heming seethes with self-righteous contempt for others and a propensity for vengeance and violence that erupts when he feels threatened, or just irritated.
His employees and clients believe the seemingly unobtrusive Heming leads a boring life, but nothing could be further from the truth in Phil Hogan's fascinating dark character study.
Starting as a quiet tale about an odd man, "A Pleasure and a Calling" wastes little time expanding to a clever thriller about a man full of menace.
Heming has owned a successful real estate agency in a "leafy, bustling" British town for 17 years, selling hundreds of houses. And he knows those houses intimately as he has kept the keys to each and, as a self-appointed guardian of the village, has little compunction about visiting those homes when the owners are gone. He is oblivious to how creepy he is, helping himself to breakfast at one house, going through checkbooks and diaries at another house, rearranging items at another house.
As for those who are rude to him, or don't pick up after their dogs, or clip an automobile without leaving a note, Heming is prepared to dismantle their lives from never-ending, unexplained deliveries to being arrested for thefts they didn't commit.
Heming's fixation on Douglas Sharp following a minor insult swells to an obsession on Abigail Rice, the young woman with whom the married Douglas is having an affair. It's time, Heming believes, to permanently remove Douglas so that he and Abigail can be together.
"A Pleasure and a Calling" brims with wry wit and taut tension, and will make readers think about changing the locks on their doors.