Ian Mallory, a book editor turned novelist, is tall, good-looking, and clever. His novel, “The Woman in the Window,” which was published under a lightly worn pseudonym, A. J. Finn, was the hit psychological thriller of the past year. Like “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn (2012), and “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins (2015), each of which has sold millions of copies, Mallory’s novel, published in January, 2018, features an unreliable first-person female narrator, an apparent murder, and a possible psychopath.
Mallory sold the novel in a two-book, two-million-dollar deal. He dedicated it to a man he has described as an ex-boyfriend, and secured a blurb from Stephen King: “One of those rare books that really is unputdownable.” Mallory was profiled in the Times, and the novel was reviewed in this magazine. A Washington Post critic contended that Mallory’s prose “caresses us.” The novel entered the Times best-seller list at No. 1—the first time in twelve years that a début novel had done so. A film adaptation, starring Amy Adams and Gary Oldman, was shot in New York last year. Mallory has said that his second novel is likely to appear in early 2020—coinciding, he hopes, with the Oscar ceremony at which the film of “The Woman in the Window” will be honored. Translation rights have been acquired in more than forty foreign markets.
Mallory can be delightful company. Jonathan Karp, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, recently recalled that Mallory, as a junior colleague in the New York book world, had been “charming, brilliant,” and a “terrific writer of e-mail.” Tess Gerritsen, the crime writer, met Mallory more than a decade ago, when he was an editorial assistant; she remembers him as “a charming young man” who wrote deft jacket copy. Craig Raine, the British poet and academic, told me that Mallory had been a “charming and talented” graduate student at Oxford; there, Mallory had focussed his studies on Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels, which are about a charming, brilliant impostor.
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One evening in September, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Mallory sat down in the bar of the hotel where he and other guests of a literary festival were staying. Tom Scott, an editorial cartoonist and a screenwriter, was struck by Mallory’s self-assurance, which reminded him of Sam Shepard’s representation of Chuck Yeager, the test pilot, in the film “The Right Stuff.” “He came in wearing the same kind of bomber jacket,” Scott said recently, in a fondly teasing tone. “An incredibly good-looking guy. He sat down and plonked one leg over the arm of his chair, and swung that leg casually, and within two minutes he’d mentioned that he had the best-selling novel in the world this year.” Mallory also noted that he’d been paid a million dollars for the movie rights to “The Woman in the Window.” Scott said, “He was enjoying his success so much. It was almost like an outsider looking in on his own success.”
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Such storytelling is hardly scandalous. Mallory was taking his first steps as a public figure. Most people have jazzed up an anecdote, and it is a novelist’s job to manipulate an audience.
But in Colorado Mallory went further. He said that, while he was working at an imprint of the publisher Little, Brown, in London, between 2009 and 2012, “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” a thriller submitted pseudonymously by J. K. Rowling, had been published on his recommendation. He said that he had taught at Oxford University, where he had received a doctorate. “You got a problem with that?” he added, to laughter.
Mallory doesn’t have a doctorate from Oxford. Although he may have read Rowling’s manuscript, it was not published on his recommendation. (And he never “worked with” Tina Fey at Little, Brown, as an official biography of Mallory claimed; a representative for Fey recently said that “he was not an editor in any capacity on Tina’s book.”)
Moreover, according to many people who know him, Mallory has a history of imposture, and of duping people with false stories about disease and death. Long before he wrote fiction professionally, Mallory was experimenting with gothic personal fictions, apparently designed to get attention, bring him advancement, or to explain away failings. “Money and power were important to him,” a former publishing colleague told me. “But so was drama, and securing people’s sympathies.”
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Nobody has accused Dan Mallory of breaking the law, or of lying under oath, but his behavior has struck many as calculated and extreme. The former colleague said that Mallory was “clever and careful” in his “ruthless” deceptions: “If there was something that he wanted and there was a way he could position himself to get it, he would. If there was a story to tell that would help him, he would tell it.” This doesn’t look like poetic license, ordinary cockiness, or Nabokovian game-playing; nor is it behavior associated with bipolar II disorder.
In 2016, midway through the auction for “The Woman in the Window,” the author’s real name was revealed to bidders. At that point, most publishing houses dropped out. This move reflected an industry-wide unease with Mallory that never became public, and that did not stand in the way of his enrichment: William Morrow, Mallory’s employer at the time, kept bidding, and bought his book.
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I recently called a senior editor at a New York publishing company to discuss the experience of working with Mallory. “My God,” the editor said, with a laugh. “I knew I’d get this call. I didn’t know if it would be you or the F.B.I.”
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Craig Raine taught English literature at New College, Oxford, for twenty years, until his retirement, in 2010. Every spring, he read applications from students who, having been accepted by Oxford to pursue a doctorate in English, hoped to be attached to New College during their studies. A decade or so ago, Raine read an application from Dan Mallory, which described a proposed thesis on homoeroticism in Patricia Highsmith’s fiction. Unusually, the application included an extended personal statement.
Raine, telling me about the essay during a phone conversation a few months ago, called it an astonishing piece of writing that described almost unbearable family suffering. The essay sought to explain why Mallory’s performance as a master’s student at Oxford, a few years earlier, had been good but not brilliant. Mallory said that his studies had been disrupted by visits to America, to nurse his mother, who had breast cancer. Raine recalled, “He had a brother, who was mentally disadvantaged, and also had cystic fibrosis. The brother died while being nursed by him. And Dan was supporting the family as well. And the mother gradually died.” According to Raine, Mallory had described how his mother rejected the idea of suffering without complaint. Mallory often read aloud to her the passage in “Little Women” in which Beth dies, with meek, tidy stoicism, so that his mother “could sneer at it, basically.”
Raine went on, “At some point, when Dan was nursing her, he got a brain tumor, which he didn’t tell her about, because he thought it would be upsetting to her. And, evidently, that sort of cleared up. And then she died. The brother had already died.”
Raine admired the essay because it “knew it was moving but didn’t exaggerate—it was written calmly.” Raine is the longtime editor of Areté, a literary magazine, and he not only helped Mallory secure a place at New College; he invited him to expand the essay for publication. “He worked at it for a couple of months,” Raine said. “Then he said that, after all, he didn’t think he could do it.” Mallory explained that his mother, a private person, might have preferred that he not publish. Instead, he reviewed a collection of essays by the poet Geoffrey Hill.
Pamela Mallory, Dan’s mother, does seem to be a private person: her Instagram account is locked. When I briefly met her, some weeks after I’d spoken to Raine, she declined to be interviewed. She lives for at least part of the year in a large house in Amagansett, near the Devon Yacht Club, where a celebratory lunch was held for Mallory last year. (On Instagram, he once posted a video clip of the club’s exterior, captioned, “The first rule of yacht club is: you do not talk about yacht club.”) In 2013, at a country club in Charlotte, North Carolina, Pamela Mallory attended the wedding reception of her younger son, John, who goes by Jake, and who was then working at Wells Fargo. At the wedding, she and Dan danced. This year, Pamela and other family members were photographed at a talk that Dan gave at Queens University of Charlotte. Dan has described travelling with his mother on a publicity trip to New Zealand. “Only one of us will make it back alive,” he joked to a reporter. “She’s quite spirited.”
I told Raine that Mallory’s mother was not dead. There was a pause, and then he said, “If she’s alive, he lied.” Raine underscored that he had taken Mallory’s essay to be factual. Raine underscored that he had taken Mallory’s essay to be factual. He asked me, “Is the father alive? In the account I read, I’m almost a hundred per cent certain that the father is dead.” The senior John Mallory, once an executive at the Bank of America in Charlotte, also attended the event at Queens University. He and Pamela have been married for more than forty years.
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Dan Mallory, who turned down requests to be interviewed for this article, was born in 1979, into a family that he has called “very, very Waspy,” even though his parents both had a Catholic education and he has described himself as having been a “precocious Catholic” in childhood.
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His mother, he wrote, urged him “to write to your colleges and tell them your mother has cancer.” Mallory said that he complied, adding, “I hardly feel I capitalized on tragedy—rather, I merely squeezed lemonade from the proverbial lemons.” In college applications, he noted, “I lamented, in the sweeping, tragic prose of a Brontë sister, the unsettling darkness of the master bedroom, where my mother, reeling from bombardments of chemotherapy, lay for days huddled in a fetal position.”
This strategy apparently failed with Princeton. In the article, Mallory recalled writing to Fred Hargadon, then Princeton’s dean of admissions. “You heartless bastard,” the letter supposedly began. “What kind of latter-day Stalin refuses admission to someone in my plight? Not that I ever seriously considered gracing your godforsaken institution with my presence—you should be so lucky—but I’m nonetheless relieved to know that I won’t be attending a university whose administrators opt to ignore oncological afflictions; perhaps if I’d followed the example of your prized student Lyle Menendez and killed my mother, things would have turned out differently.”
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In the summer of 1999, Mallory interned at New Line Cinema, in New York. He later claimed, in the Duke Chronicle, that he “whiled away” the summer “polishing” the horror film “Final Destination,” directed by James Wong. “We need a young person like you to sex it up,” Mallory recalled being told. Wong told me that Mallory did not work on the script.
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A few months later, after Mallory had moved to Oxford, his former employers noticed unexplained spending, at Amazon.co.uk, on a corporate American Express card. When confronted, Mallory acknowledged that he had used the card, but insisted that it was in error. He added that he was experiencing a recurrence of cancer.
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In the summer of 2010, Mallory told Little, Brown about a job offer from a London competitor. He was promised a raise and a promotion. A press release announcing Mallory’s elevation described him as “entrepreneurial and a true team player.”
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Sources told me that, a few months later, Ursula Mackenzie, then Little, Brown’s C.E.O., attended a dinner where she sat next to the C.E.O. of the publishing house whose job offer had led to Mallory’s promotion. The rival C.E.O. told Mackenzie that there had been no such offer. (Mackenzie declined to comment. The rival C.E.O. did not reply to requests for comment.) When challenged at Little, Brown, Mallory claimed that the rival C.E.O. was lying, in reprisal for Mallory’s having once rejected a sexual proposition.
In August, 2012, Mallory left Little, Brown. The terms of his departure are covered by a nondisclosure agreement. But it’s clear that Little, Brown did not find Mallory’s response about the job offer convincing. “And, once that fell away, then you obviously think, Is he really ill?” the once supportive colleague said. Everything now looked doubtful, “even to the extent of ‘Does his family exist?’ and ‘Is he even called Dan Mallory?’ ”
Mallory was not fired. This fact points to the strength of employee protections in the U.K.—it’s hard to prove the absence of a job offer—but also, perhaps, to a sense of embarrassment and dread. The prospect of Mallory’s public antagonism was evidently alarming: Little, Brown was conscious of the risks of “a fantasist walking around telling lies,” an employee at the company told me. Another source made a joking reference to “The Talented Mr. Ripley”: “He could come at me with an axe. Or an oar.”
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Whereas in London Mallory had sometimes seemed like a British satire of American bluster, in New York he came off as British. He spoke with an English accent and said “brilliant,” “bloody,” and “Where’s the loo?”—as one colleague put it, he was “a grown man walking around with a fake accent that everyone knows is fake.” The habit lasted for years, and one can find a postman, not a mailman, in “The Woman in the Window.”
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Mallory clearly has experienced mental distress. At Mallory’s request, his psychiatrist confirmed to me that Mallory was given a diagnosis of bipolar II. The psychiatrist said that Mallory, because of his mother’s illness, sometimes had “somatic complaints, fears, and preoccupations,” including about cancer. But a bipolar II diagnosis does not easily explain organized untruths, maintained over time. Nigel Blackwood, a forensic psychiatrist at King’s College London, told me that patients with the condition may experience “periods of inflated self-esteem,” but he emphasized that hypomanic episodes “cannot account for sustained arrogant and deceptive interpersonal behaviors.”
Chris Parris-Lamb, the agent, who has a very close family member who is bipolar, said, “I’ve seen the ravages, the suffering that the disease can cause.” He went on, “If Mallory’s deceit is the product of bipolar episodes, then they have been singularly advantageous to his career, and that is unlike any bipolar person I’ve ever encountered. And if he is one of the lucky ones who has managed to get his disease under control and produce a best-selling novel—if he is stable and lucid enough to do that—then he is stable and lucid enough to apologize to the people he lied to and the people he hurt.”
Carrie Bearden, a professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A., who has not met Mallory, said that a patient with bipolar II disorder cannot attribute to that diagnosis delusions, amnesia, or “chronic lying for secondary gain, or to get attention.” To do so is “very irresponsible,” she said, and could add to the “already huge stigma associated with these disorders.”
If the excerpts interest you at all, PG suggests you read the much more complex story told in the OP.