The One and Only

Francis King

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05 December 2013
200 pages

The Press could make Mervyn’s life a misery, if they knew where he lived. But they don’t. Mervyn has adopted an assumed name and established a quiet life for himself in a small town near Brighton.

Then the typescript arrives. It is the autobiography of Mervyn’s former school friend Bob, and it reveals not merely everything about their relationship but also Mervyn’s new name and his whereabouts. If published, it would ruin Mervyn’s life. And it would kill his sweet, gently wife, Noreen.

But what is it that Mervyn has done? He seems a wholly admirable man. He runs a quiet little antique shop, and with unstinting devotion he cares for Noreen, who is crippled with arthritis.

Francis King’s skilful excavation of the past brings us both a love story and the story of a horrific crime. Young Mervyn, we learn, was seduced by the ugly, brilliant, sexually-precocious Bob. Mervyn’s mother Bella was a frivolous upper class socialist, whose chief interest in life was men. Her uncaring treatment of the boys led them first to hatred and then to the conception of a dark plan . . .

This is a taut, unsparing novel, in which Francis King springs a whole series of surprises on the reader.