He has the key to hundreds of houses.
Maybe even to yours.
William Heming is an estate agent. He’s kept a copy of every key to every house he’s ever sold. Sometimes he visits them. He lets himself in when the owners are out. But what will happen if he gets caught?
What will he do next?
Previously published as A Pleasure and A Calling in 2014, P.S. Hogan’s thriller features William Heming, a sociopathic estate agent who keeps copies of the keys to every house he has ever sold. After each house is sold, he learns all he can about the family that moved in, even letting himself into their house when he knows they’re not there and following them. What he finds is a host of secrets and affairs, knowledge that he uses to his own advantage.
The book is divided into two halves, the first of which concentrates on Heming’s upbringing. Heming’s voyeurism started when he is a child, as he describes how much he liked to watch his family, which eventually scared them enough to send him to boarding school. He recounts how he was expelled from the school for seriously injuring another pupil and the development of his obsession with several children as he followed them around, trying to infiltrate and influence their lives as much as he could. This is the trait that becomes one of the primary features of his adult life and which is facilitated through his job as an estate agent. It becomes clear in this early part of the book that he is in part reminiscent of Bret Easton Ellis’ Patrick Bateman as he recounts the cruel things he did as a child in a cold, detached manner.
The second half of the book has a contemporary setting and presents Heming as he is today. He’s a deeply private individual and we get the sense that nobody has ever really gotten to know him. Yet, as opposed to Bateman, he never tells us what he looks like and he never describes his emotions. Those around him don’t know where he lives and he never fully discloses his past to them. Instead, he follows people without their knowledge, watching them before he makes his way into their lives, and then he moulds himself to become what they want. People are mere playthings to him, things that he uses for his own amusement. He makes himself as forgettable as possible, blending into the crowd, never standing out. Always an outsider, always the voyeur.
Hogan’s book also resembles Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels in the main character’s double life and threatening nature. One of the most powerful and unsettling parts of the book is the fact that so much is left unexplained. We get little snippets of things that happened in Heming’s life: a baby was killed, two kids were abducted. But Heming’s involvement in these events is left ambiguous, leaving us to imagine what he might have done, thus adding to his strangeness. Therefore, we never truly know just how monstrous he really is, which is deeply unsettling. In addition, because Heming gives us his version of the past, there’s a strong sense that we may not be getting the full truth of what happened. This is a fantastic study of the unreliable narrator as we hear different accounts of events from his childhood. Heming’s profession as an estate agent is also deeply threatening as he has privileged access to peoples’ private spaces. His fetishisation of the keys to the houses he has sold shows how much he wants to hold on to this power.
Hogan’s novel plays on our innate fear of intrusion into our private lives and someone invading our private space. The novel is narrated with a formal tone, which is reminiscent of classic writers such as Dickens, showing that the narrator wants to keep us at a distance. We are not welcome into his mind and are not invited to identify with him at any stage.
About the author
P. S. Hogan was born in Yorkshire. He is married with four children and has been a journalist and columnist on the Observer for over 20 years.