“On the whole human beings interested me well enough. I simply would have preferred no returning gaze forcing shape and form on me – to be free to take them in as if they were pieces of art”.
This quote from Hoffer by Tim Glencross aptly describes not only this book but also how it should be read. William Hoffer, our eponymous protagonist, is a smooth-talking, debonair fixer who moves in elite London circles offering them ‘art investment consultancy’; a blanket term for what’s occassionally actual counsel on art but mostlyshady deals which he negotiates for powerful people and the underhanded arrangements for which he acts as an intermediary.
He has friends in high places who are extremely wealthy and mostly corrupt, both morally and otherwise. Hoffer is under the protection of a Russian oligarch after years of brokering nefarious deals for him. He is obscure about his Midwestern origins and holds his cards close to his chest. His present life consists of lavish parties, dedicated hobnobbing. His carefully constructed life starts to quickly unravel after he finds a Mexican girl murdered in his Kensington apartment who happens to be the daughter of one of his former business partners. His relationship with his Russian benefactor also starts to sour and his past as a cartel broker in Mexico catches up with him after the girl’s death and that’s when things come to a head.
This book has a very old-school feel, so much so that I really thought it was sent sometime before the nineties until allusions to modern technology were made. The London that Glencross conjures has a vibrant cosmopolitan ethos and is full of opulent parties with affluent gentry. Glencross gives penetrating commentary on the lives of the elites with their constant ostentatiousness and constant race to out-do each other when it comes to being posh.
The narration is acerbic with piquant wit which is very interesting to read and reminded me a lot of Martin Amis’ London Fields. The plot mainly focuses on Hoffer even though there is a bevy of minor characters but I honestly lost threads of their names as mostly they are only mentioned in passing. I think characterisation is one of the weak links of this book and Hoffer is the only fleshed out character.
He comes across as a devious character for whom self preservation is most important and who won’t bat an eyelid before killing someone as soon as he sniffs a threat to his fabricated reputation. At first Hoffer is shown as a sharp but ultimately benign character who know which buttons to push with superior social skills. However there is a particularly chilling scene involving him and another person where he is doing something extremely violent while coolly narrating the incident to the reader. His facade of a gallant gentleman starts coming off and his actual roguish nature starts to reveal itself to the reader.
This book has a lot going on with drug cartels,the Russian oligarchs and the amoral Secret Services and while it struggles to do justice to all the themes,the laconic prose makes this a breezy read. The fluid writing smooth out the jarring plot holes and eventually result in a satisfying read.
The writing shares a lot of common themes with The Talented Mr Ripley in terms of style and characterisations and fans of literary fiction about high society will relish this book. You need to appreciate the writing more than the execution of the plot in order to really enjoy the story, which is elevated by the dry wit and cutting observations about the obnoxious ways of the privileged class.
Hoffer by Tim Glencross is published on 23rd of March by John Murray.