A comedy of manners, a mystery thriller, and a sardonic satire whose deliciously unscrupulous narrator claims that everything he did regarding his victims was "market-led," Dirty Tricks is pure entertainment from one of the most inventive writers around.
When the nameless narrator embarks upon an affair with Karen, a seemingly vapid P.E. teacher married to a boring accountant, he does not know her fetish is for adultery while her husband is in the room or loitering nearby. But once he finds out, he doesn't care. He has been abroad for twenty years, and since his return to merry old England he's been startlingly uninhibited by morals or a conscience. Which is not only why he eventually gets involved with blackmail, a kidnapping, and two murders, but also how, with hilariously syllogistic logic, he's able to justify his role in all of it.
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July 08, 2003
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Excerpt from Dirty Tricks by Michael Dibdin
First of all, let me just say that everything I am going to tell you is the complete and absolute truth. Well yes, I would say that, wouldn't I? And since I've just sworn an oath to this effect, it might seem pointless to offer further assurances, particularly since I can't back them up. I can't call witnesses, I can't produce evidence. All I can do is tell you my story. You're either going to believe me or you're not.
Nevertheless, I am going to tell you the truth. Not because I'm incapable of lying. On the contrary, my story is riddled with deceptions, evasions, slanders and falsifications of every kind, as you will see. Nor do I expect you to believe me because my bearing is sincere and my words plausible. Such things might influence the judges of my own country, where people still pretend to believe in the essential niceness of the human race -- or at least pretend to pretend. But this country, in its short and violent history, has had no time to develop a taste for such decadent indulgences. Yours is the clear-sighted, undeceived vision of the ancients, who knew life for what it is and men for what they are, and did not flinch from that knowledge.
So I do not say, 'Believe me, for I cannot tell a lie.' I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to lie my teeth off if it was either useful or necessary. Only it isn't. As it so happens, I am actually innocent of the murders detailed in the extradition request before you. It is therefore quite simply in my own best interests to tell you the truth.
It began, inevitably, at a dinner party. That's where the social action is in my country, among people of my class. Half the English feed fast and early and then go down the pub to drink beer, the other half eat a slow meal late and drink wine before, during and after. (I am anxious that you should understand the customs and manners of the country where the events in question took place, so different from your own. Otherwise it may be difficult to appreciate how very natural it is that things should have turned out as they did.) When I say dinner parties, I mean drinking parties with a cooked meal thrown in. And with Karen Parsons in the state she was that evening, there seemed a very real possibility that it would be. Both she and Dennis were chain-drinking. This was perfectly normal. But even then, before I knew her at all, I sensed that normality was not really Karen's thing. She could fake it, up to a point. She could put it on, like a posh accent, but it didn't come naturally to her.
I'd met the Parsons a week earlier, at an end-of-term social at the language school where I was teaching. We rolled up at the same time, I on my bike, the Parsons in their BMW. I thought at first they must be students. No one else I knew could afford a car like that. But as soon as they got out I realized I was wrong. What is it that sets us Brits apart so unmistakably? The clothes? The posture? Whatever it was, the moment I saw the Parsons I knew them for British as surely as though they'd had the word stamped on their hides like bacon. The man was thickset and heavy, like a rugby player, the woman thin and bony. I didn't give them a second glance.
Parties at the Oxford International Language College, like everything else, were designed with cost-effectiveness in mind. Clive had to have them, because the competition did, but since the benefits were at best indirect he had to come up with the idea of asking the students from each country to get together and prepare a 'typical national dish'. These were then combined as a buffet and served back to the students together with one free soft drink of their choice. Subsequent or alternative drinks had to be paid for at saloon-bar prices, so Clive managed to turn a profit on the evening.
In previous years he had forbidden staff to bring their own booze 'so as to avoid making an invidious distinction'. This had caused a ripple of protest. No more than that, for we were all on renewable annual contracts and Clive never tired of reminding us just how many eager applicants there had been the last time he'd had to 'let someone go'. Nevertheless, he had relented to the extent of allowing the teachers to bring a bottle as long as it was kept out of sight of the paying customers. The result was that we all kept making surreptitious trips to the staff room to refill our plastic beakers. I was lingering near the assembled bottles, wondering who on earth could have brought the Bourgueil, when I was joined by the man I had seen stepping out of the BMW. He walked over, holding out his hand.
'Dennis Parsons. I do Clive's accounts.'
Close up, he looked softer and less fit than I had thought, not so much rugby as darts. Spotting my empty beaker, he grasped the bottle I had been admiring, carefully covering the label with his hand.
'Have some of this.'
His voice was filled with self-congratulatory emphasis. I stuck my nose in the beaker and hoovered up the aroma in the approved fashion.
I got busy with my nose again, then took a sip and gargled it about my mouth for some time.
'What do you make of it?'
I frowned like someone who has just been put on the spot and is afraid of making a fool of himself.
'Cabernet?' I suggested tentatively.
Dennis grinned impishly. He was enjoying this.
'Well, yes and no. Yes, and then again no.'
'I see what you mean. Cabernet franc, not sauvignon.'
That shook him.
'But is it Bergerac or Saumur?' I mused as though to myself. 'I think I'd go for the Loire, on the whole. But something with a bit of class. There's breeding there. Chinon?'
Dennis Parsons breathed a sigh of relief.
'Not bad,' he nodded patronizingly. 'Not bad at all.'
He showed me the label.
'Ah, Bourgueil! I can never tell them apart.'
'Very few people can,' Dennis remarked in a tone which suggested that he was one of them.
After that I couldn't get rid of him. The man turned out to be a wine bore of stupendous proportions. I must have kept my end up successfully, though, for just before he left Dennis sought me out and invited me to dinner the following Friday.
'Can't speak for the food, that's Kay's department, but I think I can promise that the tipple will be up to par.'
As for Karen, she left not the slightest impression on me. Apart from that initial glimpse of them both getting out of the car, I literally have no image of her at all. I emphasize this to make clear that what happened the following weekend was as unforeseeable as a plane falling on your house.