AS plots go, it’s pretty gripping. A handsome books editor with a mental illness is intent on setting the publishing world alight with his own novel.
He has had plenty of struggles, from cancer to nursing his dying mum and a brother lost to suicide.
And his book, The Woman In The Window, is so good it sparks a global bidding war, leading to a seven-figure deal and a Hollywood film.
It’s even talked of in the same breath as publishing sensations The Girl On The Train and Gone Girl.
On its arrival last year, it shoots straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, the first debut to do so in 12 years.
Finally, Dan Mallory reveals himself as the author behind the pen name on the cover, AJ Finn.
Only, like all great stories, there’s a crisis point — and Mallory has just reached his.
This week an investigation into the 39-year-old’s background unearthed some glaring untruths, from lying about deaths in his family to earning an Oxford doctorate and, most shockingly, his brain cancer.
If there was a story to tell that would help him, he would tell it
An unnamed colleague said: “Money and power were important to him, but so was drama and securing people’s sympathies.
“If there was a story to tell that would help him, he would tell it.”
The damning report in The New Yorker magazine paints a picture of a Talented Mr Ripley figure, a suave and brilliant man who fabricated parts of his life to gain sympathy and further his ego.
There’s this guy in the office who has a Talented Mr Ripley thing going on.
Former Morrow colleague
Indeed, Mallory — who worked in publishing before writing his debut novel — even studied fictional fantasist Ripley at university.
On the surface, he is a charming New Yorker, a senior editor at publisher William Morrow, which ended up buying the rights for a two-book deal for £1.5million.
But one former Morrow colleague even told friends: “There’s this guy in the office who has a Talented Mr Ripley thing going on.”
New Yorker journalist Ian Parker found a number of startling anomalies. There was the time Mallory falsely bragged about spotting potential in crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith while working for publisher Little, Brown and Co in London, before it was known to be a pseudonym for Harry Potter author JK Rowling.
Once that fell away, then you think, ‘Is he really ill?’
Then there was a fabrication about working with US comedy actress Tina Fey, and “sexing up” the script for horror film Final Destination while working as an intern, neither of which are true, say the people involved.
Poet Craig Raine, who taught English at Oxford, said Mallory’s application to do a PhD there included a moving story about caring for his brother Jake, who had cystic fibrosis, and his mother Pamela, who had breast cancer.
He said: “At some point, when Dan was nursing her, he got a brain tumour, 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.”
I have stated, implied or allowed others to believe that I was afflicted with a physical malady instead of a psychological one: Cancer, specifically.
Raine also believed Mallory had written that his dad John had also died. In fact, all three are alive.
Pamela was treated for breast cancer when Mallory was a teenager.
Her husband John, a former Wall Street banker, confirmed she had been “next to death”. However last year she joined Mallory on a book-promoting tour of New Zealand.
Mallory does have a Masters degree from Oxford but he never completed his doctorate, even though he had signed emails from “Dr Mallory” in his second year. The story about the brain tumour came up again in 2010, while working at Little, Brown.
I was utterly terrified of what people would think of me
He wore a baseball cap, which many assumed was to cover hair loss from chemotherapy, and said he had less than a decade to live.
Not long afterwards, he left Little, Brown. The New Yorker claimed Mallory’s boss discovered he had lied about a job offer at a rival company, which resulted in a promotion and pay rise to keep him at Little, Brown.
“Once that fell away, then you think, ‘Is he really ill?’”, said one suspicious colleague.
Two years later, in February 2013, work friends in the UK received an email written by Dan’s brother, Jake, saying Mallory was due to have surgery to remove a tumour.
US colleagues received a similar email, about the removal of a tumour from his spine, the following day. But some recipients had suspicions about the writing style and concluded they may have come from Mallory himself.
Mallory has admitted that he lied about having cancer, saying it was easier than talking about his mental health.
He said: “It is the case that on numerous occasions in the past, I have stated, implied or allowed others to believe that I was afflicted with a physical malady instead of a psychological one: Cancer, specifically.”
Apologising for his actions, he wrote: “I was utterly terrified of what people would think of me if they knew — that they’d conclude I was defective in a way that I should be able to correct, or worse still, that they wouldn’t believe me. Dissembling seemed the easiest path.”
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He has since spoken openly about his problems, including bipolar disorder, and said he chose to use a pen name because he did not want his publishing experience to affect his chance of getting a deal.
He added: “I am not especially interested in author’s bios. I am buying their novel, not their memoir.
I view it as a sign of respect to not want to know too much.”
As his own stories unravel, Mallory will surely be hoping his readers think the same.
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