Inspired by the works of Patricia Highsmith, author Andrew Wilson pens a riveting psychological thriller; the pages are imbued with a gothic atmosphere, the book impossible to put down. Twenty-something Londoner Adam Wood arrives in Venice determined to write his first novel, buoyed along by a new sense of purpose in life.
On sabbatical from his studies as an art history major and fresh from the distractions of London, Adam wants something more than what all those dull post graduate courses have to offer. And he sees Venice as exotic and passionate and the perfect place to put his imagination to work; he readily admits that all he needs is somewhere where he has the time to write.
Having secured a position teaching English to the 16-year-old son of an Italian investor, Adam arrives in a city that is "bleached out by the white-hot sun and eclipsed by the sheer mass of tourists," and he finds himself in awe of all the canals that snake their way through this "saturated land."
When the job suddenly falls through, Adam is set adrift, his plans placed in jeopardy. His employers, however, recommend him to a position as an assistant to the reclusive octogenarian and once famous author Gordon Crace who once wrote the best-selling novel, The Debating Society and then never wrote another book again.
Over the years, Gordon has become an eccentric and sad old man, totally isolated in his run-down Palazzo, never engaging with anyone, never going out, and never experiencing anything. He's forever locked into his own little world, the remnants of another age, surrounded by his books and his art.
Filth and dirt, neglect and mess define Gordon's life and it's as though he had lost the ability to cope some months ago, the dirt acting like some kind of protective shell. Adam views him as a kind of self-imposed prisoner, the dirt a barrier, almost acting as a shield to distance Crace from the outside world.
Despite his employer's eccentricities, Adam settles into his respective role quite easily, both seem to enjoy each other's company with Gordon pouring his heart out to Adam, his dreams and disappointments, practically friendless but for him.
Once an English Master at a school in Dorset, Gordon also once had ambitions to write, but fell in love with a pupil, with "one of his boys named Chris." It comes as no surprise that Gordon is quite besotted with Adam, with the young man is suitably flattered at the keen interest Gordon takes in him, "I was on the very lowest rung of the literary ladder looking up at him."
With the sexual tension between them quickly suppressed, Adam is suddenly driven by a new purpose, an overwhelming curiosity - a desire to know, to scour the palazzo for signs of Crace's past. Clearly Gordon has been for years haunted by his own private demons, at times becoming unhinged by the simplest of actions, falling apart when Adam goes out to do the shopping, unable to be alone for a single minute.
When Adam has discovers a possible blackmail letter written by someone back in Dorset who knows the secret of Gordon's past with Chris, an idea occurs to him that he will write Crace's biography and make his name. This will show all the people back home who never had any trust in him; "it will be the best revenge."
The author expertly assimilates the fate of Adam and Gordon as the story moves from the sun-socked atmosphere of Venice, on to the rain-socked and gloomy locales of Dorset. Deceit, lies and treachery are de-rigor as Adam, emboldened with his grand ambitions, becomes determined to write this biography - at whatever cost, his notebook filling up as he gathers the raw material, even in Crace's own words, "his own pitiful, miserable sordid little words."
The tension ratchets up and the book builds to a heart-stopping climax as Adam spins through a world of denial, intent to mold Gordon's history for his own use, and the past threatens to intrude and shadow his thoughts, obscuring his real purpose.
The question remains: Is Gordon really in fact a cold-blooded literary murderer and a serial abuser of young boys? Is he really that capable of killing? Meanwhile, the grizzly Gordon should not be underestimated. He may be old and frail and so reclusive that he hasn't stepped out of his crumbling palazzo in twenty years, but he is more than willing to impart to Adam the age-old enigma of vice and virtue, where the tongue lies in wait, forever "speaking a lie." Mike Leonard April 07.