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This Was My Favorite Character in the Wild Literary Scammer Story

Dan Mallory.
Dan Mallory. Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images

On Monday, The New Yorker published a story about best-selling author Dan Mallory that satisfied the public’s seemingly endless appetite for scammer stories. Mallory, the author of the 2018 suspense novel The Woman in the Window, is accused of a litany of lies, from pretending to have cancer to vastly overselling his educational credentials to claiming that his parents were both dead (spoiler: they’re very much alive) to faking a British accent. It’s peppered with unnerving and ridiculous details, including mysterious cups of urine and a non-existent dog on a conference call. Cups of urine! In this economy!

Like every good story about a potentially sociopathic grifter, there are numerous secondary and tertiary characters caught up in his labyrinthine falsehoods, and they’re often as fascinating — or, at the very least, entertaining. Take the recent Fyre Festival documentaries, wherein middle-aged event producer Andy King instantly became a breakaway sensation for saying, on camera, that he was “fully prepared” to perform fellatio on a customs officer to fix a logistical problem. So, who is that character in the Dan Mallory story? Is it Jake, the fake email version of his real brother? Is it one of his ex co-workers, who all so clearly hated him?

For me, it’s British author Sophie Hannah.

Sophie Hannah.
Sophie Hannah. Photo: Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images

Hannah, who is best known for writing Agatha Christie continuation novels, was one of Mallory’s writers when he was an editor at William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. And what a writer–editor relationship they had! She clearly had suspicions about his persona, his history, and his illness long before anything was made public. Yet, at the same time, she continued to work with him closely — almost, it seems, finding some kind of resigned amusement in the bizarre scenario at hand. She radiates a quietly chaotic energy throughout. Hannah even lifted some of his falsehoods in her own work:

A seductive man lies about a fatal disease, then defends the lie by pretending to be his brother. The brother’s name is Blake. When I asked Hannah if the plot was inspired by real events, she was evasive, and more than once she said, “I really like Dan, and he’s only ever been good to me.”

Hannah also reportedly hired a private detective to spy on Mallory, who, again, was her editor. She denied it, though not particularly well, when writer Ian Parker asked her about it:

She had, however, hired a detective to investigate a graffiti problem in Cambridge. I said that I found this hard to believe. She went on to say that she had forgotten the detective’s name, she had deleted all her old e-mails, and she didn’t want to bother her husband and ask him to confirm the graffiti story. All this encouraged the thought that the novelist now writing as Agatha Christie had hired a detective to investigate her editor, whom she suspected of lying about a fatal disease.

But this, this is the line that endeared Hannah to me the most:

Hannah — who, according to several people who know her, has a great appetite for discussing Mallory at parties — also seems to have made fictional use of him in her non-Poirot writing. 

“According to several people who know her, has a great appetite for discussing Mallory at parties.” May you all have your penchant for gossip memorialized in The New Yorker as such one day.

The Best Character in the Wild Literary Scammer Story