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.