When Jane’s partner goes missing she needs to find out if he’s in danger while also contending with the politics of a large international film festival: Hollywood power brokers, Russian oil speculators, Chinese propagandists, and a board chair who seemingly has it out for her.
Jane has been appointed interim director of the Worldwide Toronto Film Festival after her boss has been removed for sexual harassment. Knives are out all around her, as factions within the community want to see her fail. At the same time, her partner, a fund manager, has disappeared, and strange women appear, uttering threats about misused funds. Yet the show must go on. As Jane struggles to juggle all the balls she’s been handed and survive in one piece, she discovers unlikely allies and finds that she’s stronger than she thinks.
I glanced nervously at the wall clock behind Jacob, as words slithered out between his thin lips, one coiled phrase after another.
He’d cast himself in the character of Dark Messiah, that much was evident in the words he used, the condescending politeness, the pained expression when someone disagreed. Mere civilians might cringe mid-apocalypse, but he’d stay on the horse, semiautomatic rifle in one hand, the burden of seeing the world for its shit-bucket self curled up in the scarred palm of the other. The baddies would quake, the babies would live, and if there was collateral damage of the slow-moving who couldn’t get out of the way, whoever said life was fair was a loser anyway.
Jacob Ray owned a successful crisis management firm, BFA, that made problems go away for people rich enough to buy salvation. He’d been recruited as board director of the Worldwide Toronto Film Festival the previous year because his client base brimmed with political leaders and sponsorship-rich corporations. Many of WTFF’smulti-year funding commitments were due to expire in the near term; cultivating powerful decision-makers of the kind who owed Jacob a favor, the reasoning went, would have significant upside for the festival.
I’d had little functional connection with him until six months earlier, when Paul DelGrotto, WTFF’sformer CEO, was suspended amid allegations of sexual wrongdoing and the board chair abruptly resigned. Suddenly, I pole-vaulted from artistic director to acting CEO, and Jacob became my board chair….
“Everyone knows Samantha is fomenting civil war among the staff,” I said. “I ask her to stop verbally attacking the veracity of the women involved. The next day she files a HR complaint against me. Doesn’t it seem likely that those two things are connected?”
“No need to be defensive, Jane,” Jacob said softly, forcing me to lean in to hear him.
“Samantha was Paul’s assistant for twenty years. She resents his firing —. ”
“He’s on administrative leave. We won’t be hasty in our judgments. ”
“He sent photoshopped images of his penis to female staff,” I said, in exasperation. “From his own email account. There’s not a lot of room for ambiguity. ”
After Lina Garcia, WTFF’shead of marketing and public relations, had gone to the human resources department with her complaint, the board originally chose to believe DelGrotto’s story of a consensual affair gone wrong, a disgruntled employee looking for revenge. They suspended Lina with pay and a gag order. Two days later, the photos of Paul’s genitalia appeared on TMZ, and four more women stepped forward with their own complaints.
Jacob’s eyes narrowed. “We don’t know for sure that it’s his body part. ” He paused to stare at me pointedly. “Or who leaked the photos to the media. Regardless, Paul’s now at home pending investigation, and you’ve landed yourself in the top job. Temporarily, at least. ”
The Dark Messiah is not above implicit threats.
“With bated breath, I fell deeper and deeper into the complex and intricate mystery so artfully created by Helen Walsh. Jane’s world felt both familiar and unlike one I’d ever seen before. Pull Focus is like a shot of adrenaline … with every page, you keep wanting more. ” — Deepa Mehta, film writer and director
“In the end, I couldn’t put this novel down. Pull Focus is a propulsive mystery of financial machinations, international malfeasance, and sexual impropriety, but it starts off deceptively, as a sardonic romp among film festival glitterati. The multi-talented woman at the heart of the whirlwind needs to smooth-talk arts board members, play tough with dangerous scoundrels, and manage all of this in the midst of romantic convulsions. ” — Antanas Sileika, author of Provisionally Yours
“Part Real Housewives, part grown-up Nancy Drew, Pull Focus gleefully skewers all players in the international film scene while deftly unspooling a good old-fashioned thriller. Walsh creates a world of glamourous parties, dirty money, and weaponized sex. ” — Missy Marston, author of Bad Ideas