The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine

An MP arranges a kinky, consensual abduction for his mistress, but when a chance car accident takes her life, he chooses to keep silent, with devastating results.

Everything is connected–except when it isn’t. In The Birthday Present, Barbara Vine follows a scandal-that-wasn’t over the course of four years to show how a secret poisons everyone it touches, and how unrelated events can become part of a story because they appear to fit.

The story is told mostly by Rob, brother-in-law to Ivor Tesham, a rising luminary in British politics with a penchant for trashy women. He decides to gift his latest lover, one Hebe Furnal, with a special birthday present. He’ll have her abducted off the street and taken to him, in an elaborate rape fantasy that was entirely consensual. He hired an actor to do the abduction, and his mechanic to drive the van, and got Rob and his wife Iris–Ivor’s sister–to allow him the use of their home for the actual consummation. On the way, the van is hit by another car, and Hebe and the actor are killed. The mechanic is gravely injured and left with no memory of the accident. The police assume that Hebe was picked up by mistake, and Ivor says nothing to tell them that the actor and the mechanic were hired by him. Life goes on… but Hebe’s death has echoes that just won’t quit.

Interspersed in Rob’s account are diary entries by Jane Atherton, Hebe’s best friend and alibi to Hebe’s husband the night of the birthday present. She becomes obsessed with both Ivor Tesham and Hebe’s husband, and gradually grows unhinged.

Both stories are riveting and suspenseful despite the lack of a mystery. I listened to this on audiobook and highly recommend the two narrators, who gave splendid performances.

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