Book Review: Believe Me - JP Delaney

Believe Me - JP Delaney
****

You expect a thriller to operate on a number of levels, the surface actions of a murder plot hiding deeper motivations, secret desires and hidden pasts. JP Delaney's Believe Me certainly plays with those levels like any good thriller should, but there's something else here that you sense is just a little bit more complicated, where the idea of truth and reality is a little more blurred, and the consequences potentially even more dangerous for it.

One of the things that makes it difficult to determine real emotions and behaviours from faked one is the fact that Claire is an actress; a good one. Unfortunately she doesn't have a Green Card, but she is determined to make the most of her time in New York by attending one of the best acting schools in the city. The only actress work that Claire can get is for a private detective who needs an attractive woman who is also a good actress to 'test' men whose wives believe they are being unfaithful by suggesting she is available and getting them to proposition her. It's potentially dangerous and legally questionable and Claire is good at it, but she's not convinced that any man would jump at the opportunity when it is presented to her.

There's one man however who doesn't fall for the usual carefully calibrated act, and that's Patrick Fogler. Just after Claire has attempted to get him to pick her up at the Lexington Hotel and, much to her disappointment failed, his wife who hired Claire is found gruesomely murdered in the same hotel. The police don't really suspect Claire of any involvement, as they have had suspicions about Fogler for some time. A professor who specialises in studies and translations of the French poet Charles Baudelaire, the police have been trying to find evidence that connects Fogler with the deaths of young prostitutes in places where he has been based, deaths that have all the hallmarks of familiarity with some of the darker passages of Baudelaire's 'Les Fleurs du Mal'.

The police think that Claire might be able to help them, since even though he rejected her, she did manage to intrigue and connected with Fogler on some level. It's a dangerous assignment and it will test Claire's improvisational skills to the limit, but since Claire is unable to rely on her PI divorce work and has increasing pressure to pay rent and bills, she is willing to give it a go. There's perhaps also something about the previous rejection that still rankles her confidence in her ability and in her assurance that she knows exactly how men behave and what they want. That's going to make things even more risky.

On the one hand, this is pretty much cat and mouse serial killer territory, only with an inexperienced actress rather than an undercover police officer being assigned to act as bait to draw him out. The fact that Claire is an actress however - and that she has some 'issues' in her background as a fostered child - places an entirely different aspect on the case, and it's one that JP Delaney handles with considerable flair, as well as for all the potential it presents. Claire, for example, has a way of thinking like an actress, setting scenes in her head, getting into character, playing out events as if they were pages from a script. There's a blurring of the lines between truth and reality, and even Claire doesn't know which reactions are genuine and which are role-play; are they learned behaviours or indeed deeper reactions related to her own personal experiences? Not only does this make things a little more ambiguous and dangerous, but in the manner in which Delaney presents it is absolutely compelling.

I'm not sure however whether the title the book shouldn't be Trust Me rather than Believe Me. As events develop in all kinds of not unexpectedly twisty ways, trust becomes the factor that Claire needs to establish with the suspected killer, as well as with the police and psychologist who need to train her and protect her from what you can imagine (if you are that way inclined) to be something potentially very disturbing, and more than likely as twisted as anything out the darkest of Baudelaire's darkest banned poems. Which, if you weren't aware of them, is something out of a very disturbed mind. Then again, Believe Me is also appropriate because this is a book - like Claire, the actress - is appealing to you to have faith that it knows where it is going, and trust that it's not going to head off down Fifty Shades of Grey territory. Inevitably, the direction it does take demands a little bit of suspension of disbelief, but if the pay-off is good enough, you'll gladly push those doubts aside (budgets? jurisdiction?) and trust that there's more than enough in the premise and treatment to keep you on-board and satisfied at the conclusion. Believe me.





Believe Me by JP Delaney is published by Quercus on 26th July 2018

Amazon UK - Believe Me

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