About a year ago I read and reviewed a book titled THE UP AND
COMER. The author, a guy named Howard Roughan (pronounced "Rowan,"
as the back flap of his new book helpfully points out) came out of
absolutely nowhere. His debut was as impressive as anything I've
ever happened across. There was also a … substance to his
writing that told you, right away, that he had a mother lode, as
opposed to a vein, of talent from which to mine.
Roughan has now published THE PROMISE OF A LIE, and he exceeds the
promises implied in THE UP AND COMER. There's no sophomore slump
here. The qualities that made his debut so great --- the confident
writing, strong plotting and memorable characterization --- are
once again present in massive quantities. And Roughan is not
following a set formula either. The protagonist of THE UP AND COMER
was a cad, Dr. David Remler, while the voice in THE PROMISE OF A
LIE is a nice guy --- a compassionate, caring psychologist who is
good at his work. He also has some benevolent notoriety, spurred by
his expert testimony in a high-profile criminal case that in turn
sparked sales of his book THE HUMAN PENDULUM, which begat
television and radio interviews, which ... well, suffice to say,
he's the type of guy who almost gets recognized wherever he goes.
Remler has a small social circle but is still mourning the loss of
Rebecca, his wife and the mother of their pre-born child, in an
accident some years before.
Remler is accordingly somewhat vulnerable when Mr. Sam Kent, his
new Thursday at 4:00 p.m. appointment, turns out to be the
mysterious and beautiful Samantha Kent. The reason that Kent has
consulted with Remler is that she wants to kill her husband, a
fabulously wealthy venture capitalist who is psychologically
abusive. Remler begins the therapeutic process with the goal of
giving Kent the emotional strength to stand up to her husband and
leave him, as opposed to ending his life. Remler also begins to
feel the stirrings of emotions that he thought died with his wife
and that are inappropriate, given the professional relationship he
has with Kent.
He is awakened one night though by a frantic telephone call from
Kent, who announces to Remler that she has, indeed, killed her
husband. Remler rushes over to her apartment and discovers a murder
victim --- and the police arrive immediately thereafter to find
Remler at the scene. Remler gives them an account of what has
happened, and he appears to be in the clear. That changes, however,
when the police announce that Samantha Kent has returned home from
a business trip to find her husband murdered and that she has never
been in therapy with Remler --- and doesn't even know him.
Indeed, Remler has never seen this "new" Samantha Kent, and when he
is charged with the murder of Samantha's husband, he is faced with
the prospect of finding the mysterious woman who masqueraded as the
wife of the murder victim and, perhaps just as importantly,
ascertaining her motive for implicating him in the crime. Remler
appears to be caught in a brilliantly spun web that he in part
inadvertently helped to build, until a mysterious benefactor takes
an anonymous interest in the case. Remler's own efforts lead him
halfway across the country to uncover yet another layer to the
mystery --- one that will ultimately put him in even greater
Phillip Margolin generously contributed a back cover quotation to
THE PROMISE OF A LIE, indicating that he read the novel in one day.
I am sure he was not engaging in hyperbole. Even if you are able to
ascertain early on what is really occurring here, Roughan is such a
compelling stylist that you can't help but read on to find out how
he is going to reach the conclusion that you suspect he is heading
towards. The clues and hints that he scatters like breadcrumbs are
always sweetened with additional questions and puzzles that
intrigue rather than confound. THE PROMISE OF A LIE is also,
perhaps unintentionally but possibly by design, a neat little
morality tale, concerning the benefit of saving yourself, and your
love, for the right person.
Roughan, with only two novels under his belt, is no longer merely a
rising star; his work is busily establishing its own firm
constellation. Very highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011