Million-dollar author caught in web of lies

Ghost writer: Dan Mallory publishes his fiction under the pseudonym A.J. Finn.

Dan Mallory, writer of the bestselling thriller The Woman in the Window, has admitted to lying about having brain cancer — one of many deceptions he used to boost his career.

The Woman in the Window was a sensation. A violent and mysterious thriller built around an unreliable narrator, the book constantly keeps its readers guessing.

The novel brought its author, Dan Mallory, riches and fame. But now his reputation lies in ruin after a New Yorker article exposed him as a serial-liar — weaving tales of deception about his own life almost as extraordinary as his fiction.

Before releasing his first novel last year, Mallory had worked for a decade in publishing. On several occasions he told colleagues he was suffering from brain cancer, that his mother had died of cancer, and that his brother committed suicide. None of this is true.

“Money and power were important to him,” a former colleague explained. “But so was drama, and securing people’s sympathies.”

Indeed, many of those he told responded with compassion, and he rose quickly up the ranks in the publishing world. Others eventually became suspicious.

As the scale of his deception was revealed this week, Mallory apologised, saying it was “never the goal” to “take advantage of anyone else’s goodwill”.

But how should we respond to his actions?

According to the moral philosopher Immanuel Kant, lying can never be justified. He argued that an act is good only if it could become a universal law. It would clearly be bad if nobody ever told the truth, therefore lying fails this test.

So how should we judge Dan Mallory?

White lies

Harshly, some argue. As Douglas Murray points out: “how could Mallory possibly look a cancer sufferer in the eye” after this? How can the public trust him now?

Then again, aren’t we all guilty of lying sometimes? Are those attacking Mallory merely hypocrites? The answer to these questions depends on the ethical perspective you have on lying. Is it always bad?

You Decide

  1. Is it wrong to lie?

Activities

  1. Time for a thought experiment! What would the world be like if nobody lied? Discuss this question in pairs and small groups, then share your ideas with the class.

Some People Say...

“A liar should have a good memory.”

Quintilian

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On January 30, a PR firm working for Mallory released a statement on his behalf: “I’ve spoken publicly about mental illness […] in my distress, I did or said or believed things I would never ordinarily say, or do, or believe.”
What do we not know?
A film adaptation of The Woman in the Window is due to be released later this year. We do not know if this controversy will impact on the film’s release.

Word Watch

Sensation
It was the first debut novel to top The New York Times bestseller list in 12 years.
Riches
The book was initially sold to publishers in a deal worth $2 million. Mallory was also paid a further $1 million for the movie rights.
Ranks
At one point he was made executive editor at William Morrow. The New Yorker estimates that his salary was at least $200,000.
Universal law
Something that is right in all situations anywhere in the world.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.