The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag – A Review


I came upon this Heinlein novel by chance.  Being a lover of Heinlein SF, of course I wanted to read it.  I later learned that The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag was first printed under the pseudonym John Riverside.  I find this particularly interesting and I can only guess the reasons why Heinlein chose to do this; perhaps he felt it departed too far from what I’ll call, for lack of a better word, the traditional Heinlein feel.  This tale is set right here on terra firma, and has a bit of a supernatural twist to it.  It’s actually quite a fun little novella.

I won’t give away any major spoilers, in case you want to read TUPoJH.  If you really want to know the details of the story, check out the article on Wikipedia.

You might be interested to know that according to iMDb there is a movie version in the works slated for release in 2013 (not 2011 as Wikipedia asserts).

In brief: Jonathan Hoag is a shy, cringing, fussy little man who does not know what he does during the day.  He gets up in the morning, prepares for work and apparently goes there.  But, he has no memory or recollection of the nature of his work or where he goes.  One day he notices that he has an odd substance under his nails.  He is afraid that this substance is blood and he has it analyzed.  He is told that the substance is not blood but is not given any other explanation.  Afraid that he may actually be some sort of amnesiac serial criminal he enlists the help of a husband and wife who are detectives.  He wants them to help him solve the mystery.

What follows is…odd, to say the least.  To say the most, I’m not quite sure, even now, days after having completed this story, how I feel about it.  I do like TUPoJH.  The supernatural element is interesting, but not Grudge-like weird.  Creeping freaks and ghosts aren’t jumping from out of nowhere to take you by surprise.  I’m okay with that and oddness aside, the story does make sense to me.  I’m not altogether positive if I’m feeling put-off because TUPoJH isn’t typical (at least to me as I haven’t read everything or Heinlein’s) Heinlein fare, or if I’m feeling put-off because the ending/resolution was so unexpected.

At no point did I suspect Jonathan Hoag of being a serial criminal, that much I had right, but the rest?  You’d never guess.  It was almost like watching one of those old Sherlock Holmes dramas.  At the end you go, “Hmph, well who’d a thunk?”  And you say that seriously because no one would’a thunk.  But you don’t really challenge the absurdity because, well… it’s Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle best creation, Sherlock Holmes.  And if Conan Doyle says so, then it is, but there’s a voice in the back of your head saying, “Not so much.”

I like this one by Heinlein; it’s refreshing and different.  But not as much as say The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  Nothing has touched that yet.  At least not to me.

I give this one a , even though that voice keeps say that I should give it a .  But hey, this is Heinlein.