A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Andrew Crofts has published over 80 books, including a dozen Sunday Times best sellers, and sold more than 10 million copies. He’s the best-selling writer you’ve never heard of but almost certainly read (if you read at all extensively), because he’s a professional ghost writer. He is, in fact, considered by many one of the finest and most successful ghost writers in the world.
Being able to turn out best-selling memoirs and exposés is, of course, no guarantee of a talent for writing fiction, but Crofts has chosen his subject wisely. Secrets of the Italian Gardener is about a ghost writer who is employed by a middle-eastern dictator to write his autobiography with the intention of countering the negative publicity that is accumulating around him more rapidly than he can dispel it.
Our narrator – the ghost writer – accepts the commission because he’s in desperate need of a large amount of money, for reasons that are not immediately made plain to us. Initially, we know only that a terrible and very personal tragedy has befallen him, driving him from his home and family and into the ultra-secure and hedonistically unreal Palace in which the World Leader is hunkering down.
Events outside the Palace walls are beginning to run out of control however and the World Leader has precious little spare time in which to tell the writer his life story – or at least those parts of it that he wishes the world to know. And so it is that the writer wanders out into the Palace gardens, where he encounters the eponymous Italian Gardener.
The gardener is elderly, wise and enigmatic, and I freely admit that I heard the cliché warning bells starting to ring very loudly at this point – but I needn’t have worried. Neither the gardener, nor indeed the garden, are what they seem, and to reveal any more is to give too much of the storyline away.
As the tale unfolds we learn more about the World Leader, the gardener and the ghost writer – the three interwoven strands eventually channelling into a single narrative that leaves a string of questions in its wake:
Does putting blood money to good uses cleanse it?
Is it possible that someone who has committed unspeakable crimes against humanity could be fundamentally decent?
Is it ever right to keep silent about that which we know to be wrong?
The book offers no pat answers to these questions – nor indeed does it actually pose them – but the characters are so carefully created and multi-layered, and the storyline so involving that we are led into contemplating the banality of evil and the complexity of the human psyche almost without realizing it.
One question, however, the book does answer. Can Andrew Crofts write fiction? Yes he can.
RedDoor. 2015. ISBN: 978-1-910453-08-7. 145pp. (Also available as an ebook.)