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Friday, November 18, 2011

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag by Robert A. Heinlein

Creepy Change of Pace for Heinlein

Read by Tom Weiner
Approximately 4 hours
Blackstone Audio

Multiple Hugo Award winning author Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) changes his tone with the novella The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.

This audiobook seems much more like a Philip K. Dick story than a Heinlein story since it features none of the themes that Heinlein is well known for, like space travel, alien contact or time travel. Instead, we get an extra helping of creepy with a surprise ending that truly demonstrates Heinlein’s ability to master a variety of styles.

First published under a pseudonym in the now-defunct magazine Unknown in 1942, The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag features Ted and Cynthia Randall, a husband and wife private detective team based in Chicago. They are approached by a fastidious little man with a topcoat and silk gloves named Jonathan Hoag. He has an odd proposition – he offers them a preposterously large retainer to help him figure out what he does for a living. Mr. Hoag knows that he has a well-paying job that pays him cash, but he does not have the faintest idea what that job is. The crisis began while he was at a dinner party and another guest commented on the reddish stains under his fingernails and asked what he did for a living to leave such a residue behind. He was very bothered to find that he did not know.

Ted and Cynthia agree to help him and find that this may not be as easy as they thought.  They find that everything about Mr. Hoag seems to be a mystery and the more they interact with him, the more they doubt their own eyes and ears. Soon enough they discover that “the whole world might be just a fraud and an illusion.”

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988)
The story suffers a bit from age, which is to be expected. After all, this story is nearly 70 years old. Some of the expressions that are used may have been very hip and stylish in 1942 but they sound a bit clunky to the ear nowadays. Also, some aspects of the story such as elevator operators and doctors making house calls may be totally foreign concepts to some listeners. That being said, the underlying story overcomes all of that window dressing. Rumor has it that a movie version of this story is in the works as well.

Award-winning narrator Tom Weiner skillfully handles a variety of different voices throughout. He voices Mr. Hoag perfectly, catching his prissy, fussy nature throughout, but adding a different tone once we discover his true profession. His characterization of the story’s bad guys (I am intentionally not describing them so as not to ruin their scenes) has the perfect amount of menace and mystery.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.

Note: I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewed on September 3, 2011.

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