With leaden steps I went back outside and stood in the parking lot blinking in the Californian sunshine, the light reflecting in brilliant shards off the ranks of expensive cars that so embodied the pursuit of the American dream.
Better Than This is a contemporary crime fiction novel. The protagonist is 34-year-old Nick Weston, who's married, lives in San Francisco, and runs an advertising agency, Carpe Diem. Right from the start of the novel it's clear that things aren't going well for him. His business is having serious financial problems after a dot.com client folded owing it a lot of money and the bank is threatening to close it down. His business partner Marcus is angry at him and his marriage with his wife Sally is slowly falling apart.
He believes that all of his problems will be solved once he obtains a lucrative account with a major software company, Spectrum, to market a new version of their home finance software. However, an old business rival turns up, determined to thwart Nick's plans for the sake of his own ego. Nick works so hard on the bid for the account that he neglects his existing customers, with disastrous results.
Together with his wife Sally, Marcus, and Marcus's girlfriend Alice, Nick looks for ways to save the agency and their livelihood. He continues to believe that money is the solution and takes bigger and bigger risks to obtain it, finding Alice an unexpected but willing accomplice. He starts as a fairly honest person but gradually becomes dishonest and violent, doing things that he had never even considered before, driven by greed and fear. He's unable to understand the danger that he's putting himself and the others in as he loses control of the situation.
The novel is written in the first person - from Nick's point of view. It's divided into three parts. Part one explains in some detail how and why Nick started the agency and how he met his wife, so it's slow-paced at times. Parts two and three involve more action and are faster-paced. The characters are interesting and it's easy to empathise with Nick even as he becomes involved in dubious activities. The theme of the novel is the lengths an ordinary person might go to to hold onto his dream. The title comes from a letter that Nick's father wrote shortly before he shot himself. The author called it an ambiguous title, saying that it suited the novel because it was an ambiguous book.
Stuart Harrison is an Englishman who lives in New Zealand. He's married and has two children. A former sales manager, he now works full time as a writer. He published three previous novels: The Snow Falcon (for which he earned a NZ$1,000,000 advance), Still Water, and Lost Summer.