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Excerpt from A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Pleasure and a Calling

by Phil Hogan

A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan X
A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2015, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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Excerpt
A Pleasure and A Calling

IF YOU WERE TO put a gun to my head and ask me to explain myself, I suppose I might begin by saying that we are all creatures of habit. But then, you might wonder, what creature of habit is a slave to the habits of others? All I can say is that the habitual is what I love most and am made for; that the best I can do is hang on, have faith, and hope what has lately blown through our unremarkable but well-ordered town will be forgotten and all will be calm again. Right now I feel lucky to hear myself breathe. The air is dangerously thin. It seems to rush in my ears. And yet the scene is peaceful here in the half-lit, slumbering pre-dawn: a white coverlet glowing in the room, a discarded necklace of beads, a shelf of books, one face down, splayed on the bedside- table, as though it – like the whole town at this hushed time – is dead to the world. I cannot make out the title but the sight of this book with its familiar cover image (the shape of a man in raised gilt) returns me to that day, not too long ago, when the wind changed and the sky blackened and ordinary life – startled by the sudden thunderclap of the unusual – reared, kicked over the lantern and turned the barn into a raging inferno whose leaping, thrilling flames could be seen from a hundred miles away.

It was a day that started as quietly as this one. Another dawn – a dawn suffused with love, I am not afraid to say – though if I pause to mention the girl at the heart of things (or at least her habits) it is only to illustrate the contrast of events, how beauty and ugliness can live so surprisingly cheek by jowl, the one unseen by the other. How one moment you can be lying in the warm, ticking dark, awaiting the return of your special one (and here she was, arriving back from her early run, the rattle of her key in the lock, the sound of water thudding into a fragrant tub), and the next contemplating horror, drama and scandal.

This is the route my memory instantly takes to capture that day, though the truth is I didn't hear the news until she had ped- alled off into the crisp, bright morning, and I had walked to my office. The rest of our leafy, prosperous community will recall it in their own way. The point is that this was the day the Cooksons of Eastfield Lane returned from their annual spring break in the Seychelles to find a week-old dead body ruining the visual flow of their well-stocked garden with its established fruit trees, land- scaped lawns and hand-cut limestone patio.

Every estate agent has a client like the Cooksons, so don't judge me too harshly when I say I had to suppress a smile when my third in command, Zoe, her eyes wide with excitement and alarm, broke the news. We'd had the Cooksons' house – a handsome character property at the very edge of town, surrounded by fields and woods and yet only a ten-minute walk from the tennis and cricket club – on our books for eighteen months or more. In a falling market, my senior consultant Katya, an extremely efficient Lithuanian, had sold the place twice – to buyers desperate to own it but who had pulled out in acrimony and tears to take their depreciating financial packages elsewhere, reduced to an emotional frazzle by the Cooksons' failure over weeks and months to find a new ideal home for themselves, by their refusal to consider going into temporary rented accommodation to rescue these deals, and not least by their general destructive haggling over trifles. I'd lost count of the properties the Cooksons themselves had walked away from at the eleventh hour – upscale dwellings that ticked every box on an evolving wish list that had taken the three of us out to look at converted windmills and maltings, a superior Georgian townhouse on the square, a riverside apartment with long views and finished in oak and granite, a wool merchant's cottage with sizeable vegetable garden out towards Wodestringham. The paths of the couple's individual whims – hers, at any moment, for a circle of yews, his for an authentic chef's kitchen with wine cellar rarely crossed. If one light went on, another went off. You saw them bickering quietly in their car. Once I heard Mrs Cookson refer to me as 'that fucking creep, Heming', which seemed a little severe, though in the circumstances – I was lurking in a recess on the landing directly below them as they stood disagreeing about the aesthetic merits of porthole-style windows – I suppose she was right.

Excerpted from A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan. Copyright © 2015 by Phil Hogan. Excerpted by permission of Picador. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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