Thursday, December 29, 2016


I love a good story of intrigue, so The Fall Guy by James Lasdun was the perfect reading choice for a cold winter's night when I could, if needed, hover under the blankets. It is a novel in the noir genre, so from the onset, the reader is left with a sense of unease. After all, it's just a story of two cousins, Matthew and Charlie, and Charlie's wife, Chloe, who are going to summer together at the wealthy cousin's home in upstate New York. What could go wrong?

Matthew and Charlie spent their teens raised like brothers in Matthew's home in England. Both ended up in Manhattan, Charlie to become a wealthy investment banker and Matthew to run a restaurant which has recently been sold. Though there is a rivalry between the two, the reader is led to believe they share a deep trust for one another and enjoy each other's company. Otherwise, why would Charlie give Matthew the alarm code to his home in New York City as well as the combination to his safe in order to retrieve a $10,000 necklace he bought as an anniversary gift for his wife, Chloe? A safe in which Charlie has also stored stacks of thousand dollars bills totalling over $1 million. Also, why would he invite Matthew to spend an entire summer in the guest house of his upstate home,  often to be alone with Chloe while he went to the city to do business?

The summer begins languidly, taking the reader poolside with Chloe and Matthew. Matthew, it seems, has always had a crush on Chloe, but has been resigned to their platonic relationship since Charlie and she married. They spend time chatting by the pool, and Matthew makes himself useful by taking on the role of personal chef. He fits himself into the pattern of the household - Charlie going into the city to do business, and Chloe engaged in her own activities of yoga and photography. The days plod along peacefully.

That is, until Matthew suspects that Chloe is having an affair. From that point on, he becomes obsessed with finding evidence to support this notion, stalking Chloe all in the name of gathering information for his cousin. Or, so he tells himself. Meanwhile, his relationship with Charlie is straining at the seams.
The tension goes into high gear at the half-way mark, when several scenarios, none of which are good for Matthew, seem possible. Is Matthew being set up? If so, by whom? Is Charlie using him to uncover Chloe's affair? Is Chloe using him to discover the affair and report it to Charlie so she can be free of her marriage? Is Matthew putting himself in the path of danger? These are the questions that keep us turning the page (or swiping to the left if you use a Kindle.)

The novel does have its weaknesses, particularly the lack of  development of Chloe's character, which makes her little more than a paper doll. But, we can overlook that as the writing draws us into this world of leisure and mystery. We feel the heat and humidity of the lazy summer days met by the cooling comforts of wealth. We experience the deep chill that descends upon the household when the three main characters are together, as well as the hot-to-the-touch need of Matthew's  to uncover Chloe's deep secret. We're kept off-balance by contradictions and unexpected behaviors.  All of this adds up to a book that will keep  many readers up past their bedtime to find out "what happens next." For me, that's always a book worth reading.

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