There’s a blurb on the back of Believe Me from a review by The Daily Mail: ‘Slick, sexy, suspenseful and smart.’ It’s the Daily Mail so this should be taken with a grain of salt either way, but I can think of a few better s-words to describe this novel. Soporific. Sophomoric. Sexist. Shitty. And let’s not forget the main one: stupid. So very stupid.
That isn’t to say there’s nothing to enjoy there, but it’s enjoyable the way a really bad film is: it leaves you feeling smugly superior.
The plot (which, I should reiterate, is stupid): British drama student Claire Wright is in New York on a student visa, but NY being prohibitively expensive she works off the books for a law firm, trying to seduce husbands to give their wives divorce ammunition. Most of the men she meets are Gollumesque horndogs who never see through her, because of course Claire is both astonishingly beautiful and a brilliant actress. Then, one night, she meets Stella Fogler, wife of wealthy Columbia literature professor Patrick Fogler, who specialises in the work of Baudelaire. Stella warns Claire about her husband, tells her that he can’t be trusted. Claire takes the job anyway, though Patrick doesn’t fall for her charms. Then Stella turns up dead and the police ask Claire to help them lure Patrick into a confession… OR DO THEY?
“And that’s when Claire realises she’s playing the deadliest role of her life”, the blurb on the back says. Which is a very roundabout way of saying this book is basically Shutter Island as reimagined by EL James. It’s all there: ludicrous plottwists, clunky language, cardboard cutout characters, a gross misconception of the BDSM-community (to be fair to Delaney, the writing is slightly better than that of James, though that’s not saying much). There’s even a dash of Dan Brown in the cherrypicked inclusion of Baudelaire’s poetry. Meanwhile, Delaney tries to sort of acknowledge the #metoo movement and, as per usual, misses the point entirely.
Claire and Patrick, as main characters, are fiction’s answer to a coat rack: they mostly serve as a convenient hook to attack plot points to. Patrick is what happens when writers mistake the inconsistent for the enigmatic. Claire, meanwhile, is an ACTRESS and, therefore, prone to gormless histrionics which, I suppose, are meant to signify passion. Then there’s Kathryn Latham, who is possibly the world’s most incompetent spook and possibly the world’s worst psychologist. At one point she bitchily asks Claire if she’s, perhaps, on her period, before commenting: “Right. Let’s move on to your sex life. This may take some time, I imagine.”
If I hadn’t already hated this book that would’ve done it, but why hate just one thing when there’s just so much to choose from?
Yet what really grates in this novel is the endless supply of ludicrous plot twists. It’s not predictable, I’ll give it that, but it’s insane. It’s Stephen Moffat on steroids. It has way too many endings. The whodunnit, when it finally comes, is so idiotic that a word has yet to be invented for it.
Believe Me, on its cover, likens itself to The Girl on the Train and while I didn’t love that one either, it had some merit. It had consistency, character development. It had ONE plot. This book is nothing but hot air and it stinks of arrogance and condescension. It’s the Donald Trump of thrillers: erratically spewing hot air, in love with its own cleverness and blind to its own stupidity.