This inverted thriller calls to mind previous British mysteries where the protagonist is a professional man first drawn to murder as a solution for mounting economic and relational problems, only to become more and more embroiled in the unforseen consequences. I am thinking of Middle Class Murder (US title Dead Reckoning) by Bruce Hamilton, the brilliant and satirical Payment Deferred by C.S. Forester, and various titles by C.E. Vulliamy (pseud. Anthony Rolls) such as The Vicar's Experiments.
In this case, the murderer is Graham Marshall, an aspiring Human Resources professional for a large oil company (and by the way, I think this is the first time I have seen a major character drawn from the world of HR). He is master of the corporate game, and has acheived worldly success: a large house, a trophy wife and two kids, expensive holidays, a responsible job with the promise of further promotion, the works. Cracks soon appear in this deceptive facade when Marshall discovers he is in danger of losing all: wife, income, and house. A solution is almost accidentally suggested: murder. And the temptation proves too great to resist.
Marshall proves himself an excellent plotter, successively ridding himself of those who stand in his way. The book is unsettling because we find ourselves alternately loathing and encouraging the man. We deplore his wholesale discounting of the value of human life, yet some of his prospective victims are in themselves so vile, we are temporarily swayed to Marshall's point of view. Brett keeps us off balance until the very last page.
Particulary well done is the over-the-top depiction of the corporate world, where little seems to depend on merit, and all on cut throat power games, an amoral environment that is a natural breeding ground for a killer. If you thought Reggie Perrin's world was bleak, just wait until you read this.