It’s the early 1990s, and Ivor Tesham, Tory MP, is in the middle of an affair with Hebe Furnal, a glamorous housewife who shares his taste for S&M. When the car Ivor’s arranged to kidnap Hebe crashes and she dies, Ivor decides to hide his involvement in the affair from the police. Over the ten years or so, as Ivor’s fortunes rise and fall, he is terrified that things will come to light and his political career will be over.
The story is told from two points of view: Ivor’s brother-in-law Robyn; and Hebe’s best friend Jane, a sad, pathetic, obsessive, and mostly deluded librarian (she’s a classic Vine character) who provides Hebe with an alibi while she’s out at her trysts with Ivor. Jane is easily the best character of the bunch; at once, you feel sorry for her and revulsion at the things she thinks and says. The real strength of the novel, however, lies in the psychological suspense, which kept me interested the whole way through.
There are a couple of things that seemed anachronistic to me, however (would an unemployed woman with no money have owned a cell phone in the early 1990s?), and the ending is a bit predictable. And for people who aren't really into politics, Vine does get a bit into the subject here. The Birthday Present isn’t quite as good as, say, The House of Stairs or The Minotaur, but it comes very close.
Also reviewed by: Books I Done Read