JP Delaney’s debut novel, The Girl Before was one of the most accessed / read posts on this website. Well, that was until hundreds (thousands) visited more recently to read my review of A Simple Favour by Darcey Bell – which I gather is being / has been made into a movie. Hence the interest (though I’m not entirely sure how my review is featuring so prominently!)
I really enjoyed The Girl Before so eagerly awaited Delaney’s second novel, Believe Me, which the author (Tony Strong, writing as JP Delaney) notes is a re-work and re-publication of a manuscript published 17 years earlier.
And given how much I enjoyed this book, it was well worth the revisit.
A struggling actor, a Brit in America without a green card, Claire needs work and money to survive. Then she gets both. But nothing like she expected.
Claire agrees to become a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers. Hired to entrap straying husbands, she must catch them on tape with their seductive propositions.
The rules? Never hit on the mark directly. Make it clear you’re available, but he has to proposition you, not the other way around. The firm is after evidence, not coercion. The innocent have nothing to hide.
Then the game changes.
When the wife of one of Claire’s targets is violently murdered, the cops are sure the husband is to blame. Desperate to catch him before he kills again, they enlist Claire to lure him into a confession.
Claire can do this. She’s brilliant at assuming a voice and an identity. For a woman who’s mastered the art of manipulation, how difficult could it be to tempt a killer into a trap?
Delaney’s debut was set around an interesting premise and featured a couple of complex and sometimes unfathomable (in a good way) characters.
Claire is our lead here and not entirely reliable. She’s forced into some situations that are less-than-ideal but makes the most of them. And Delaney – via Claire – gives us a lot to consider.
She’s an actress but a student of the Constantin Stanislavski method which suggests you don’t ‘play’ a character. You become it. You ‘immerse yourself in the emotional truth of a part until it’s a part of you.’ And her quite-attentive teacher, Paul, seems to be impressed by her talents…. which come in handy for her part-time job/s.
But then, this isn’t lying. This is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances. Which, as you’ll discover, is very different. p 10
We fairly quickly get Claire’s backstory and understand that she had her big break, but had it foiled… partially through her own doing, but also through her naiveté. And then there’s her family history and life in foster care, which is sad… until we realise there might be more to the story.
‘It’s like that, sometimes,” he says quietly. ‘Sometimes, when you wear a mask too long, you find it can stick to the skin.’ p 155
And then there’s Patrick, the target of the sting operation. Claire believes herself to be a good judge of character. Her acting life has required it more and more and she soon starts to doubt his guilt and the role she’s playing in an attempt to bring him to justice.
Oh, and there could be a whole double, triple cross thing happening as well. On top of that, nothing is really as it seems.
So, this is twisty and very very intriguing. We readers don’t really know what to believe, which is exactly how this type of novel should be proffered.
Just when we think we’ve brilliantly interpreted something and have it solved, it all changes.
And it’s cleverly and creatively written with Delaney interjecting scenes as if on stage during certain conversations and situations. In reality it’s a way of telling readers exactly what happens… until we’re offered a couple of different versions of the murder itself!
As an aside, there’s a book (Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire) featured in this novel and an obvious intention that our characters mirror those in the book. Although there comes a point at what we wonder if life is imitating art, or vice versa.
This is an excellent read and will be a bookclub treasure as there are a lot of breathless discussions to have.
Believe Me by JP Delaney will be published in Australia on 24 July 2018 by Hachette.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher for review purposes.