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Hooper, Chloe - 'The Engagement'
Hardback: 256 pages (Jan. 2013) Publisher: Jonathan Cape ISBN: 0224096346

This is a short book with a psychological edge rather than a crime. Liese is an English interior designer, working with her uncle in Melbourne selling and renting out property. She moved to Australia after losing her job back in London as a result of the recession, and is in debt. She meets Alexander when he comes into town, looking for a 'pied a terre'. After showing him around several possibilities, they end up having sex. Afterwards, following an apparent misunderstanding, he offers her money and she accepts. The experience becomes a regular one, until eventually Liese decides to leave Melbourne and go travelling. Alexander asks her to spend the weekend at his farmhouse some way out of Melbourne, so he can show her the country before she leaves and, as an extra incentive, tells her she'll be well paid. Of course, once she's been driven to the farmhouse, things don't go exactly to plan. Alexander's behaviour is odd and Liese starts to wonder what he is hiding. Is Alexander mad or just in love with Liese? Or is it Liese who is delusional and unable to engage with reality?

I can't say that this wasn't an interesting book to read, and there is a skilful build up of tension that drives the story forwards. However, disappointingly, in parts the book almost reads like soft porn, as Liese recounts her experiences with Alexander in Melbourne, leading up to the visit on the farm. These memories mainly consist of the well worn fantasy of the nymphomaniac meeting a man in a different places on a regular basis, to act out a new fantasy each time (including the one where they nearly get caught by the real residents). Crucially, Liese did take on the persona of a prostitute when she was with Alexander in Melbourne, and what follows is undoubtedly a consequence of that.

THE ENGAGEMENT is a strange mixture of banality, naivety and menace, this is definitely in a class of its own. Worth a read, but don't get annoyed by the ending (I did)!

Michelle Peckham, England
March 2013

More crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 15/03/2013 09:52