In William Hoffer Tim Glencross presents that trickiest of propositions: an unpleasant protagonist. Or is he? The fact of the matter is that, with Hoffer, it’s all about the appearance. He is studied in the ways of London Society as only a hunter can be, in but not of his surroundings. He’s accepted as an established figure although he’s not really one of them. Though you might not know it to see him, he is a working man and London Society is his office. His tastes are lavish, his manners impeccable and his past is not open to discussion – until it turns up, unexpectedly, in his living room.
Everything about Hoffer is contradiction, though he is always and unmistakeably Hoffer, even down to his thoroughly ‘English’ respect for the well-made umbrella. He takes great pride in his appearance and his reputation, and it’s nothing short of very hard work appearing to be so at ease with the world and in showing us all this Tim Glencross’s characterisation is perfect. What you first think of as an unpleasant protagonist is actually… likeable. And if that’s a bit of a stretch for you there’s no shortage of likely candidates to compare him to. Indeed, there are far more unpleasant entities to be found in the supporting cast and there is, I think, a detectable delight in the way the author draws them. As with Glencross’s debut, Barbarians, there’s a sense that it’s the ugliness in his characters that attracts him the most.
Whether you like William Hoffer or not, there’s plenty going on here to keep you wondering whether he’s going to sink or swim.
If I had to pick one thing as my abiding memory of the aforementioned Barbarians, it would be the very dry and quite pointed humour of it (still one of my favourite comic lines in a novel is the one from Barbarians directed at Tony Blair about how the Middle East isn’t his forte). With Hoffer I find myself far more aware of the teeth lurking in the grass. Not to say that Hoffer doesn’t have its lighter moments, it’s just that the points are that much sharper.
The prose itself chimes a note familiar to Barbarians too, making me think of Evelyn Waugh (with a little tweaking of the cultural references I could easily see this cast of characters feeling perfectly at home in the Twenties, though not necessarily with the unfortunate Mr Pennyfeather), though in this instance you can add a large dose of Patricia Highsmith to the mix. The everyday cut-and-thrust of Tim Glencross’s characters is very aptly couched in that phrase. It’s witty, razor-sharp and finely-observed and the story itself unfolds at a very pleasing pace. The impression is that there’s no particular rush, although of course that is just an impression because at the heart of things there’s that dark understanding that keeps you on edge, that keeps you wondering what’s next, and when is it going to happen, and who’s going to come out of it with something rather unsavoury beneath their fingernails.
With Barbarians, Tim Glencross arrived with much – and well-deserved in my opinion – fanfare. In letting Hoffer loose on us he’s set out his stall in a very enticing manner. Hoffer is a pleasure to read – a slightly grubby pleasure, but that is I think part of its charm. Already I’m wondering what the author is dreaming up to present to us next!
Hoffer is published by John Murray on the 23rd March 2017 ISBN: 9781444797596
You can find Tim Glencross at his website timglencross.com