‘There’s only control, control of ourselves and others. And you have to decide what part you play in that control.’
Cast your eye over the comfortable north London home of a family of high ideals, radical politics and compassionate feelings. Julia, Paul and their two daughters, Olivia and Sophie, look to a better society, one they can effect through ORGAN:EYES, the campaigning group they fundraise for and march with, supporting various good causes.
But is it all too good to be true? When the surface has been scratched and Paul’s identity comes under the scrutiny of the press, a journey into the heart of the family begins. Who are these characters really? Are any of them the ‘real’ them at all? Every Trick in the Book is a genre-deconstructing novel that explodes the police procedural and undercover-cop story with nouveau romanish glee. Hood overturns the stone of our surveillance society to show what really lies beneath.
I’m so glad that Renard Press gave me the chance to read this book, because otherwise I might not have come across this author and a truly great read that kept me thinking throughout. Our opening chapter takes us on a tour of a family home, the narration giving us the impression that all isn’t as it might first appear. Even as we’re being told about their decorative bowl made from a melted vinyl record and the model art we are invited to question it. Does the socio-economic group the family belong to fit with the professions and workplaces shown on their lanyards? Both have charity sector jobs that might hint at left wing political views, but the author is inviting us to look deeper to think that maybe, in this surveillance age we are being fed an impression of something. Think about how we edit our own lives to fit social media and wonder whether we’re being fed what we want to see.
This is such a clever book, one that tricks us with what we expect to see. Meanwhile underneath there is something far more sinister going on, or is there even another layer beneath that? This is a real genre-bending novel that manages to be a family drama, a spy thriller, meta- fiction etc. I loved the author’s slightly off kilter narration:
‘On a Tuesday this man, the father, has nothing to do in the afternoon and wanders away from the café where he was having lunch, not far from Upper St. and up a cul de sac and into a pub. It’s his usual routine when he isn’t meeting her, the mother, his wife, to walk home’.
The form of address reminded me of writing the method for a science experiment at school. It invites us to observe the characters, rather like people being experimented upon. We’re observing them – almost as if we’re testing them or following them. Is this father behaving like this sort of father should? On the face of it Paul is a mild mannered father of two teenagers with a slightly tragic love of Captain Beefheart. Then we’re told he’s tested on his Beefheart knowledge by his superiors. He’s playing a role and just like the descriptions of his home, it reads like stage instructions or a screenplay. The narrator is checking off his list of props, making sure they’re in position for when ‘this family’ walk back in. Absolutely nothing is as it seems.
Even as this ‘normal’ family live their normal life, they have conversations that have dual meaning. As the father has a conversation with one of his daughters, I felt like I was listening in to a coded message! There’s clearly intelligence here in this family, but interwoven with high ideals, morality politics and compassion for the human condition. You can’t sleepwalk your way through this book, I was thinking, constantly, wondering what would be revealed about these family members and what they’re really up to. Then the journalist appears, young, ambitious and sure she’s stumbled upon a story here; perhaps she holds the truth about this family’s real identities, and then chaos ensues.
The author keeps that atmosphere of mystery throughout, about what is being hidden. As Paul walks along in one section the narration of his journey includes every CCTV camera on his route. Then redacted parts of the narration start to blank out certain cameras and places. I’d originally thought Paul was noting the cameras on his journey, aware of being watched. Then reaching the redacted parts made me realise someone is watching him, observing his route and then redacting the parts they don’t want to be seen. I desperately wanted to know why? The level of tension keeps the reader hooked until the book is over and one tiny footnote can make you rethink everything you read before. It’s a comment on the sheer amount of surveillance, a theme throughout.
I loved the way the author looks at the construction of self, do we have a fixed identity that remains unchanged at it’s core? Alternatively, our sense of self could be seen as constantly changing and updating itself. He also explores how others perceive us and how different it is from how we see ourselves. Someone might encounter us on a bad day and perceive us as a rude or grumpy person, whereas friends wouldn’t recognise this description. I loved Paul’s discussion with his boss about how our version of ourselves is only one of many versions. He describes an encounter with two housemates when they were working building sites around the time of the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. He asked if anyone had played ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ and they immediately round on him thinking he’s making a homophobic joke. In reality he just loved tracks where John Deacon’s bass playing is the star, like on Under Pressure. No matter what he did those men will always think he’s the sort of person who makes derogatory comments about ‘gays and Freddie and dead young men’. These ideas are all the more pertinent when you think that Paul may well be playing a part. When you do that for years, at what point does your real character bleed into your cover identity? How do you ever leave that role behind?
This book was smart, funny and so perfect for the world we now live in where everything we do is documented – mostly by ourselves on social media, making it even easier for those agencies that watch. I found myself smiling and laughing in parts, because this book looks at the world through a cynical and satirical lens. The author is holding a mirror up to our society whether they’re trying to make sense of it or lambast it. I want to re-read it as well, with the knowledge I’d gathered along the way. It’s rare to find a book that entertains, informs and grips you from the first page, but in addition it also made me slightly paranoid! I’ve always been sceptical, but I’m not sure I’ll ever trust our institutions again.
Meet The Author
Iain Hood was born in Glasgow and grew up in the seaside town of Ayr. He attended the University of Glasgow and Jordanhill College, and later worked in education in Glasgow and the west country. He attended the University of Manchester after moving to Cambridge, where he continues to live with his wife and daughter. His first novel, This Good Book, was published in 2021.