Believe Me by J P Delaney - book review
One of last year's most outstanding thrillers was JP Delaney's The Girl Before, a mesmerising exploration of obsession and deceit which was quickly snapped up for the big screen by Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment.
The book was a runaway bestseller for Delaney – an author who has penned fiction under other names – but it was also the launch pad for the republication of a book he wrote nearly two decades ago and which he considered a ‘flawed offering.’
Now the story has been rewritten from scratch, using the original ideas and some of the scenes but with a new title, new plot, new characterisation and a new structure. The result is sensational… a psychological thriller so full of ingenious twists and mind-bending turns that you will question your own sense of reasoning.
Star player is a young and penniless British drama student in New York, using her acting talents to entrap straying husbands for a firm of divorce lawyers, and then finding herself on the wrong side of the law… and playing a role that could prove deadly.
Throw in some devious double and triple crossing, intriguing literary references to the dark verse of French poet Charles Baudelaire, and the stage is set for a drama so thrilling, so inventive and so addictive that it should come with a warning to clear your diary for a run of at least 24 hours.
Brought up in a succession of foster homes in Leeds, Claire Wright always wanted to be ‘other people’ so an acting career seemed the perfect answer, particularly the Russian actor Constantin Stanislavski’s method of ‘immersing yourself in the emotional truth of a part until it’s a part of you.’
Winning a scholarship to a top New York acting school was an escape from her complex life in England but it doesn’t pay the rent and without a green card, she can’t get a job to earn the money she needs to survive in the big city.
Desperate for cash, Claire agrees to become a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers, posing as an easy pick-up in hotel bars to entrap straying husbands and taping their seductive propositions. The rules include making it clear you are available, but never hitting on the ‘mark’ directly. The firm is after evidence, not coercion.
Claire is not proud of what she does but ‘proud of how she does it’ and is always happy to take the cash with no questions asked. But the game changes when the wife of one of Claire’s targets is violently murdered and the police are sure the husband, an academic called Patrick Fogler, is to blame.
Desperate to catch the man they believe has killed a string of women, the police enlist Claire – a woman who has mastered the art of manipulation – to lure him into a confession. But right from the start, she has doubts about the part she is being asked to play.
Is Fogler, an expert on the macabre poetry of Baudelaire, really a killer… or the only decent husband she has ever met? Is there more to this set-up than she is being told? Just who is the decoy… and who is the prey?
Believe Me is a stunning thriller… with troubled Claire as a classic unreliable narrator seemingly unable to separate truth from fiction, the disturbing lines of Baudelaire echoing through the pages, and some dialogue written in the form of a screenplay, Delaney constantly asks us to consider whether life is imitating art, or art imitating life.
But what IS real is the menace that seeps insidiously through all thoughts and action, and the certain knowledge that someone out there is a brutal, merciless serial murderer. Who that person is lies at the heart of this complex, compelling story and until the killer is unmasked, no one can be trusted.
So prepare to be put through the wringer… graphic, unsettling, provocative and insanely entertaining, Believe Me has to be one of 2018’s best thrillers!
(Quercus, hardback, £12.99)