THE UP AND COMER by Howard Roughan


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First-timer Roughan knocks one out of the park with this satisfyingly lean and propulsive thriller.

As the titular up-and-comer, Philip Randall narrates his story with an easy confidence that’s almost impossible to resist. A cocksure young lawyer at the Manhattan firm of Campbell & Devine, Randall’s just about reached the tipping point of complete, unalloyed success. His wife, Tracy, is acquiescent and from money, and his tough-as-nails boss, Jack Devine, has taken a shine to him. Not one to leave things as they are, though, Randall complicates matters by conducting a torrid affair with Jessica, wife to one of his friend Connor. The author deftly elides Randall’s hollow conscience by the casual callousness of the affair, never letting Randall slide into a caricature of an American Psycho–style Master of the Universe: he’s not a monster, he’s just a cold-hearted heel who really doesn’t care much about anything or anybody. Having drifted into law simply because it was something he could do and make money at, Randall is more believable a protagonist than the brainy, suited Supermen who populate so many legal thrillers. Roughan’s created such a compelling character that he wisely waits until almost halfway through the story before springing the trap.Tyler, one-time pothead and pseudo-friend of Randall’s from his prep-school days, pops back into his life unexpectedly with some upsetting news: He’s been following Randall and photographing his liasions with Jessica. The price for his silence: $100,000. From this point on, Roughan tightens the screws on Randall with steady, masterly skill. Randall’s sly cynicism is ground away by Tyler’s relentlessly sadistic hounding, slowly turning Randall into the kind of nervous wreck that he would have mocked from his once-lofty perch. The dénouement is classically noir, a penitence spoken with the grave, self-mocking humor of one brought low by his own arrogance.

An impressive debut.

Pub Date: June 5th, 2001
ISBN: 0-446-52666-5
Page count: 330pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2001