Book review: Believe Me by J P Delaney

The dark, psychological mind-twisting thriller about a sociopath who cannot be identified until the end has a finish that seems a tad unsatisfying.

Should we believe the protagonist? Is she living in a fantasy world? Hard to believe that the whole world is out to get her. Or, is it? That’s the way it goes in Believe Me by J P Delaney.

The thriller teeters and then totters for and against Claire Wright, a British actor with a past who has moved to her city of dreams, New York, to distance herself from nasty memories in her homeland. Work in theatre in New York is practically non-existent for her since she doesn’t have a green card. To survive, she takes on whatever comes her way, mainly waitressing and then tacky music videos and suchlike, before that work too dries up because she stands up to a typical cliched advantage-taking producer. Backed against a virtual wall, she accepts an unusual job that helps her practice her acting skills, too.

Her job brief is to act as a siren for a divorce law firm that is engaged by suspicious wives and to entrap supposedly wayward husbands by recording them on hidden cameras to get proof for the spouse. Work is sporadic but helps her pay some bills. It also hones her acting skills where every encounter leads her to think: “What can I use from that?” Till one day the game becomes complicated!

One of her clients, Stella Fogler, is found dead in her hotel room. Stella has hired Claire to get evidence of her straying husband, the erudite Patrick Fogler, a professor at Columbia University who has translated the controversial sexually charged and violent book of poems Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire, a 19th-century French poet. Claire is the last person to see her alive when she meets her in the hotel room to tell her about Patrick not taking the bait. Stella seems agitated and somewhat frightened, and that very night she is killed.

Claire, who has been on the receiving end from the police because of her working without a green card, is now compelled by the cops to help them trap Patrick, the main suspect in Stella’s murder. They believe he is a serial killer who has been luring and killing women in the same way as described in Baudelaire’s poems. It’s the role of a lifetime for her, acting as Patrick’s student first and then pretending to fall in love with him while being wired up as an undercover cop to get evidence of his deviant behaviour. What she does not imagine is her falling in love with the charming, caring, good-looking man! And he with her, or at least that’s what he claims to, while staying platonic for a good part of the story. As he tells her, “Sex can be a test for any relationship. As Baudelaire’s friend Flaubert said, we should be wary of touching our idols, lest the gilt comes off in our hands.”

The incredible twists and turns end up putting Claire in a mental institution. The resident psychiatrist suggests her story is a product of her vivid actor’s imagination. “We all inhabit our own reality,” he tells her, “a bit like a computer network. Different machines on the network run different software. Sometimes there are little glitches. Compatibility problems, as it were. Then they have to be fixed by tech support.” And this tech support, so to say, tries to fix it by upping her medication and dooming her to an interminable stay in the mental facility. Eventually, she is bailed out by, guess who, Patrick Fogler, who even produces a Broadway play for her based on Baudelaire’s work. Who is the victim here and who the perpetrator? Who is manipulating whom? Who does one trust? The suspicion keeps falling on all characters at different stages of the story. And at times, the surprise feels like a breath-catching blow! The tale meanders and snakes through incidents and characters, making the reader breathless.

An entertaining read that at times does feel a bit far-fetched but, well, suspend your disbelief when you find the unbelievable bits getting to you. Just when one thinks they have figured out the complexities of the web and intrigue, another dramatic turn gives the reader a shudder of a shake! Does one believe Claire? Is she the wronged or the wrong-er? How much of her tale is hallucinatory? Do the characters she interact with actually exist? Do the incidents really happen?

One never knows where Claire the person starts and where Claire the actor takes over. The unreliability of her tale keeps the adrenaline going, keeping the reader on tenterhooks. Use of dramatic devices, terms, and exercises, adds to the narrative and the ambiance of the story.

The dark, psychological mind-twisting thriller about a sociopath who cannot be identified until the end has a finish that seems a tad unsatisfying. But maybe that’s just me! Overall, a good, pacy page-turner.

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Book review: Believe Me by J P Delaney

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