Harris, Oliver - 'The Hollow Man'
The protagonist, Nick Belsey, in this amazingly good first novel by Oliver Harris, is a deeply corrupt Detective Constable with very serious drinking problems and as a consequence he has lost his home and is seriously in debt; bankruptcy looms and he is just one step ahead of bailiffs. He goes to the Hampstead, north London police station where he is assigned very early one morning and discovers that a "misper" (missing person) has been reported from Bishops Avenue, Hampstead. This is one of the most expensive locations in the UK. The smallest houses in this road are around five million pounds each. He assigns himself the case as there is no one else at the station to advise him differently and goes to the address where he finds a housekeeper and understands from her that her lone Russian boss Alex Devereux is missing. She explains that she has never actually ever seen him, although she has worked at the property for two months but upon arriving at the house this morning she has found a note in which he explains in a very roundabout way that life has lost its meaning and therefore goodbye. Belsey explores the lavishly furnished house, noting the swimming pool on the roof and the superb quality of the misper's clothes in the bedroom wardrobes.
Belsey, because of his dire financial circumstances and having been evicted from his last accommodation starts to sleep at the lavishly furnished Bishops Avenue address and even lets some people believe it was his personal home or that of a close personal relation and because all his own credit cards were either maxed out or cancelled he used the missing Russian ones after practising his signature. He even starts to use the missing Russian's clothes and his car. Slowly, at first, he starts to check out the missing Russians whereabouts until he starts to notice a strange smell which he finally tracks down to a secret room behind a heavy mirror in the main bedroom and discovered the dead body of Alex Devereux with his throat cut!
Belsey, after ensuring that all his prints are wiped from any surfaces, calls for an ambulance and reports the suspicious death. He tells a lot of lies to ensure that he can still use the clothes of the dead man and his car and makes attempts at selling the more portable possessions. All the while he does this he is using his police training to check out aspects of the deceased's life. Belsey has a whole series of adventures of cheating, tricking and lying until the marvellous conclusion. Belsey comes across as a real bastard of the highest order but does he have any redeeming features? That is what this lovely book explores. He begins investigating criminal schemes of how he may use the Russian's death to his advantage.
The character "Belsey" is a sort of anti-hero of the type that was exemplified by George Macdonald Fraser in his series of Harry Flashman books. THE HOLLOW MAN is a really extraordinary book that was most enjoyable and I hope that this very gifted new author continues to write such imaginative books of this high quality. Highly recommended.
Terry Halligan, England
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