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Believe Me


Believe Me

I read an article recently about the number of male authors hiding their gender to increase sales. It appears it has worked based on the success of such writers as Riley Sager, AJ Finn, SJ Watson and JP Delaney, the latter of whom is the pen name for Tony Strong. Delaney’s latest book does nothing to hide this fact and actually states on the first few pages that it released in another form years earlier under the title THE DECOY. It's obvious that he did some updates, because BELIEVE ME rings true as a current and timely novel --- and quite a twisty story it is.

The proceedings kick off with one of my favorite literary quotes that aptly describes the action and characters within this clever psychological thriller: “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true” (Nathaniel Hawthorne, THE SCARLET LETTER). In the prologue, hotel maid Consuela Alvarez knocks on the door of a room that needs to be cleaned and announces her presence by stating “Housekeeping.” When she receives no reply, she steps into the room and pulls back the covers on the bed to find a sight that causes her to stifle a piercing scream.

The action then moves to five days earlier as we meet Claire Wright sitting in a bar waiting for a friend. Claire is a British actress who had little luck making a name for herself in the London theatre scene and has taken her show on the road to the United States. Her first stop is New York City, where she finds acting roles that much scarcer. She takes up a job with an agency run by a former police officer. This high-paying gig has her jumping into situations with cheating spouses to see if she can get them to bite on her very forward flirtations. She has had much success, and the agency’s clients, mostly scorned housewives, pay nicely for the little time it takes her to get the answers they seek.

"BELIEVE ME rings true as a current and timely novel... Things are quickly set onto a roller coaster track of thrills with some twists and turns you will not see coming."

Claire has a tale of woe all prepared to dole out to casting agents, directors and anyone else seeking to know more about her. The reader will learn quickly that she is a really good actress, and that may include falsifying some information that they have taken for granted about her. Claire faces her most interesting assignment yet when she is asked to come on to the husband of her client, Stella Fogler. Stella warns her that Patrick is like no man she has ever met and should not be trusted, and begs her to be careful.

Claire literally bumps into Patrick at a bar and begins some innocent flirtation. She then plays to his vanity when she notices he has a copy of a paperback by Charles Baudelaire. They recite lines back to each other, and their encounter seems to be going well. However, when Claire attempts to take things further and offsite, Patrick rebuffs her, leaving her with his book of poetry. Claire meets up with Stella and her boss, Henry, to let them know of her failure. Stella leaves in a huff, and Henry is shocked that his always-reliable employee has finally let him down.

Later that evening, Stella is found dead in her hotel bed --- the same bed that was checked by Consuela in the prologue. The police are very interested in speaking with Claire. All this attention turns Henry off, and he abruptly fires Claire from his agency. Detective Frank Durban is leading the case, and Patrick seems to be the prime suspect in his wife's murder. Durban introduces Claire to a forensic psychiatrist he works with, Dr. Kathryn Latham. After speaking with Claire, Durban and Latham decide they would like to utilize her acting skills and get her to meet up with Patrick again to seduce him and see where that leads.

Claire knows her Baudelaire and finds some passages that she thinks resemble the style in which Stella was killed. She believes Patrick is taunting the authorities and that only she can get inside to discover the truth. Reconnecting with him is far easier this time, and they begin a burgeoning friendship with the possibility of more. Claire eventually leans toward Patrick being innocent and Durban and Latham having focused their case on the wrong suspect. When she gets cast in a play about Baudelaire, written and interpreted by Patrick, matters really go off the rails.

Patrick falls in love with Claire, and you would like to think the novel ends right there. However, JP Delaney has other plans for these characters. Things are quickly set onto a roller coaster track of thrills with some twists and turns you will not see coming. It's safe to take literally the plea that Delaney's title begs. The only problem is you will not know who to believe, and the storyline goes through the looking glass and beyond it. The book has a killer ending that truly delivers and is a nice complement to the rest of the story. Delaney's first novel, THE GIRL BEFORE, already has been optioned by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer for a film treatment. I would love to see BELIEVE ME up on the big screen as well.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 24, 2018

Believe Me
by JP Delaney