A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan


For our “year of reading” at work, our director suggests a genre each month to get us to try books we might not otherwise read. So far it has been good for me – I read an Agatha Christie for Cozy Mystery month, a Regency Romance (with indentured servitude, mistaken identity and kidnapping by pirates!) for Romance month, and finally had an excuse to read Philip Reeve’s Fever Crumb for Steampunk month. (The month we were supposed to read Narrative Nonfiction I decided I read enough of that already without any provocation.) This month’s genre is “Thrillers”, so I dug this book up, but I think I’m going to have to read something else because this wasn’t the thriller I thought it was going to be. I don’t mean it was bad, just that it was more of a psychological suspense kind of book than the action-packed thrillride bunch of scariness I expected a “thriller” to be. So if you’re looking for car chases, frantic running through dark woods, or the fear of death every minute, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for mildly creepy on the surface but terrifying once you think too much about it, this is your book.
Our protagonist, Mr. Heming, is a real estate agent. He is quiet, unremarkable, and even if you bought your house from him you’ve probably forgotten him. But he hasn’t forgotten you. In fact, he probably still has the key to your house and comes over when you’re not home to “get to know you”. Mr. Heming likes to have breakfast in houses where he knows the owners aren’t in. He likes to keep detailed records of his clients’ comings and goings, their browsing histories on their computers, their credit card statements, their address books – he’ll even go so far as to spend the night in crawl spaces listening to the inhabitants as they retire for bed. This is a harmless personality quirk, surely…people are just so interesting, and Mr. Heming thinks it’s only natural that he should want to know all about them. It’s even sort of amusing when Heming occasionally takes revenge on people who have wronged others – in one case, he witnesses one of his homeowners knocking the mirror off of his neighbor’s car. When the man denies this and refuses to pay for the repairs, Heming anonymously pays for it himself – and then uses the information he’s collected on the homeowner to make his life miserable. All this is weird, but still relatively innocent, and Mr. Heming seems so reasonable while he is telling you his story…until it becomes apparent that he will do anything necessary to avoid getting caught, and has in fact done some things in his past that he’s forgotten to mention to you.

I’m not sure what reads like this, since it isn’t my usual genre. It reminds me a little of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places in the sense that the protagonist is really not a very good person, but you’re stuck with him because he’s the one telling you the story. It also vaguely brought back some hints of Joyce Carol Oates’ Rosamund Smith books, like Lives of the Twins, where characters turn out to be way scarier on the inside than they look on the outside.

All I can say is that I am VERY, VERY HAPPY that my husband and I changed the locks right after buying our house. Not because we suspected our realtor of being a psychopath (she’s actually quite charming), but because there was a key for each door. EACH DOOR. Who has 5 keys for one house? But better safe than sorry in case our realtor turns out to be a Mr. Heming wannabe, right?


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