Atria Books, 256 pages, $24.99 (release date - 6/23/15)
Translated from German by Imogen Taylor
Henry is an author of bestselling thrillers. But not really. His wife, Martha, actually writes them, compulsively working on them in her upstairs lair. She wants no recognition. Luckily, Henry is comfortable with accepting the accolades. He also indulges in what fame and money can buy: a Maserati, fine clothes, exquisite food, a mistress.
After Henry met Martha, he emerged from a cocoon he had created for himself after a troubled childhood and delinquent adolescence. He cooked for her and coddled her. She wrote her books and made him famous. After Henry met Betty, an employee at his publishing company who fortuitously discovered his first book in a slush pile, they became lovers. After Betty became pregnant with Henry’s baby, Henry found himself teetering on the proverbial horns of a dilemma: ditch his paycheck or his beautiful amanuensis. If pushed, he could not admit to actually caring about either of them.
The bodies start to accumulate. Whether by design, accident, or illness, they slouch and drape and crumple and otherwise litter the landscape. We know what Henry has to do with each body, because it is his viewpoint we follow. But we are initially less knowledgeable about Gisbert Fasch, Henry’s stalker, and Inspector Jenssen, the at-first adoring and then suspicious detective assigned when Martha is reported missing.
Arango does a superb job of creating a man who accepts his lack of emotion and determines how to survive by creating a simulacrum of a normal person. One by one he ingeniously dodges the various problems that are thrown his way, but will he survive the ultimate test, worming his way out of a charge of murder?
In a splendid translation by Imogen Taylor, Arango’s tartness, irony, and slyness shine through. Here are some samples of Arango's poetic and often humorous writing and Taylor’s immaculate translation:
There is no silence like another person’s absence. Drained of anything familiar, it is a silence that is hostile and reproachful.and
What distinguishes policemen from criminals or civilized people from barbarians apart from the brutality of their instincts and the consistency of their breakfast eggs?and
Henry had led a secret life — somewhere and somehow. That in itself was an achievement, for vanishing is an art. It means renunciation and abstention.
Henry’s character is crystal clear. The important people in his world are also distinctly designed and so very interesting. Henry Hayden can join the fine company of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley and Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter as an intriguing, twisted character we are glad we aren’t meeting in a dark midnight alley.