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the hand that feeds you

2 january 2017

The Hand That Feeds You has a terrific hook, one that initially caught my eye last summer when I read a review of the French translation in Le Monde. A woman returns home to the apartment she shares with her fiancé and three large dogs. Only the dogs are left; they've made a meal of the fiancé.

That's not a spoiler; it happens within the first few brilliantly-written pages, and constitutes the reason for picking up the book in the first place. But it's unlike anything I've heard of before. Even the Hound of the Baskervilles merely scared its victim to death, if I remember correctly. Inevitably, there must be scores of other mystery novels I haven't read, where the killer is a dog or pack thereof, but The Hand That Feeds You surely offers a unique twist on the situation.

The novel is written by Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment (under the pen name A.J. Rich, to honor a late friend who had lived through its main plot idea, though presumably without the dogs). Much of its suspense is generated by the narrator not seeing the twists ahead quite as quickly as the reader does – no mean feat by the authors. Morgan Prager, the protagonist, has some excuse for not seeing the story in front of her as clearly as she ought. She's not only found the guy half-eaten by the dogs, but she quickly learns that he's not who he seemed to be. He'd been engaged to several other women concurrently, and didn't live where he seemed to or answer to his real name. Worse yet, she'd met him in the course of designing an academic study on women who become victims of sociopaths. Ironically, he was supposed to constitute the control group.

The Hand That Feeds You is a true mystery, so I'll go no further in spoiling it. It's in some ways a chick-lit story, too: Morgan, on the rebound from her dog-ended relationship, desires men while having a million reasons never to get involved with another one, and has to balance her heart and head as she moves forward. It's an animal-rights story, taking us into the world of non-human law; it's also a version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. It's an intricate and offbeat achievement, not quite like anything else I've read, and well worth picking up.

Rich, A.J. The Hand That Feeds You. 2015. New York: Scribner [Simon & Schuster], 2016.