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THE BODY LIES . . . Between the covers

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As the immortal Juliet once asked, “What’s in a name?” To her, not very much, as I recall, but it takes a brave novelist – such as Daphne Du Maurier in Rebecca – to keep the narrator and central character anonymous. Jo Baker uses this literary ploy in her latest novel, The Body Lies. Even the title is ambiguous, but the young woman at the centre of this dark domestic thriller is anything but anonymous or sketchily drawn.

TBL coverIn the absence of a name, what do we know of her? She is a writer who, like so many others in real life, has been published but needs a day job to stay afloat. She is married to a rather dull but worthy London schoolteacher. They have a young son, Sammy and, in an effort to re-establish her identity she makes a successful application for a lecturing job at a university in the north of England. Husband Mark is unwilling to leave his post, and so they agree to live separately but meet up at weekends. At the very beginning of the novel the woman is assaulted by a stranger while she is out jogging: the attack is not physically serious but leaves deep mental scars.

She finds herself in a provincial university which is aspirational rather than distinguished, and once she has conquered her nerves about delivering lectures, her main challenge is to conduct tutorial sessions with a group of would-be authors, each drawn to the crime fiction genre. The students are a diverse bunch: a voluble and emotive American woman who is, if nothing else, extremely ‘woke’; a suit-and-tie solicitor who is a fan of gritty police procedurals where the corpses are invariably female; most troubling – and troubled – is a young man called Nicholas who is writing a stream-of-consciousness narrative about a mysterious death which could be suicide, or then again….

When Nicholas and his tutor go beyond the accepted boundaries of student-teacher relationships, the story moves from a wry and sardonic satire on the political and social politics of schools and universities, and takes on a much darker hue. Nicholas disappears, but sends in the weekly updates to his work-in-progress via email – and they are nothing more or less than a blow-by-blow account of his most recent sexual encounter.

Jo BakerAll the familiar tropes of modern British domestic noir kick in, to good effect. We have a stalker, marital infidelity, a woman alone in a remote cottage, the debilitating after effects of recreational drug use, a murder disguised as a suicide and, tellingly, a very scary confrontation on a Wuthering Heights-style moor.

Jo Baker has written an intriguing and very clever novel which, while asking probing questions of readers and writers of crime fiction regarding their tolerance of the woman-as-victim trope, never preaches. Her nameless but vividly real central character is memorable for her courage, resilience and sheer humanity. The Body Lies is published by Doubleday and is out on 13th June.

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NO ONE HOME . . . Between the covers

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Over the years, missing persons investigator David Raker has, courtesy of his creator Tim Weaver, solved some perplexing cases. There was the man who disappeared into the bowels of London’s underground railway system, the amnesiac who was found on a deserted south coast shingle beach, the straight ‘A’ student with the secret life who just vanishes and, memorably, the time his dead wife walked into a London police station and back into his life. Raker tends to be looking for troubled individuals, as in just the one person. But this time it’s different.

NOHA whole village has disappeared. OK, let’s put that into context. The village is the isolated moorland community of Black Gale, and it consists of a farm and three expensive and fairly recent houses arrayed in a semi-circle around the older building. Black Gale. Population, nine souls. And on Halloween, two years since, they vanished. Into thin air. Like Prospero’s insubstantial pageant, the four families have left not a rack behind.

Raker has problems of his own, principally in the shape of his long time friend, former police officer Colm Healy. Healy featured in the very first Raker mystery Vanished (2012) and his misfortunes have been ever present over the series (No One Home is the 10th book). Healy is officially dead – and buried, He has a gravestone to prove it, but for a variety of reasons the former copper now exists under a variety of aliases, under the protection of David Raker. A persistent and intrusive journalist wants to write Raker’s life story, but also suspects the truth about Healey, and uses his knowledge in an attempt to force Raker to co-operate. Keeping the hack at bay – just – Raker begins to unpick the mystery of Black Gale.

Fans of the series will know that Tim Weaver doesn’t like Raker’s cases to be geographically confined, and so it is that the Black Gale conundrum is linked with a grisly unsolved murder in a flyblown California motel decades earlier. I say “unsolved”. The local Sheriff’s Department think the case is a wrap. They have a vic and a perp and have moved on to other things. Detective Joline Kader, however, has other ideas. She is unconvinced that the body lying face down in a bathtub of muriatic acid is simply the victim of a drug deal gone wrong, and the case stays with her over the years, right through her police career and her subsequent vocation as a college lecturer. Right up until the moment where her old obsession collides with David Raker’s fatal unpicking of a very clever and murderous conspiracy.

Screen Shot 2019-05-25 at 19.45.47No One Home is a brilliant thriller. It runs to over 500 pages, with not a single one wasted. The action is constant and the plot spins about all over the place, so you will need to be on your mettle to keep track of what is going on. Tim Weaver (right) has never been shy of creating apparently improbable conundrums for Raker to solve, and this is no exception. Suspend your disbelief for a few hours and go with the flow. I read it in three intense sessions and although I don’t use “Wow!” in normal speech, it certainly applies here. No One Home is published by Penguin and is out now.

POSTSCRIPT: It is unlikely that anyone reading this is a book reviewer with a yet-to-be-read advance copy of No One Home, but if you are, then please be advised that the ending in your copy makes no sense at all. Reverse sections 9 and 10, however, and things fit into place much better, and I believe this is the version which is now on sale to the public.

RUNAWAY . . . Between the covers

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This gripping thriller opens in New York’s Central Park. To be more precise, in Strawberry Fields, the section of the public space dedicated – perhaps by a city with an uneasy sense of guilt about providing the stage for the most infamous music death of all – to the man who took five hollow-point .38 bullets in his back, just across the way on 8th December 1980. Simon Greene, a wealthy investment advisor, sits on a bench listening to a busker, also committing murder (but this time the victim is only a song, All You Need Is Love)

“Simon’s eyes stayed locked on the panhandling girl mangling John Lennon’s legacy. Her hair was matted clumps. Her cheekbones were sunken. The girl was rail-thin, raggedy, dirty, damaged, homeless, lost.

She was also Simon’s daughter Paige.”

RunawayStart a 366 page book like that, and you might be making a rod for your own back, one that will whack you squarely between the shoulder blades if you don’t keep up the poetic intensity. Does Coben manage it? Of course he does – and with the stylish flourishes and narrative élan we have come to expect from one of the great crime writers of out time.

Simon Greene tries to embrace his fallen daughter, both literally and metaphorically, and he meets not only rejection but is sucked into a vortex of desperation and violence as he defies the good advice of his family, and tries to bring Paige home. Greene has three weapons: first, a borrowed handgun he has no idea how to use; second, a relatively inexhaustible supply of cash with which to bribe the grifters who he believes can lead him to his daughter; thirdly – and perhaps the most potent – a desperate desire to reclaim his ‘little girl’ and, perhaps, assuage the inevitable feelings of guilt any parent must feel when a child goes badly astray.

Pitting a mild-mannered financial advisor against a violent underclass of drug dealers and abusers might seem an obvious ploy, but Coben turns the narrative on its head by introducing another element into Simon Greene’s quest. Think Heart of Darkness, and imagine Greene as Conrad’s Marlow, but be prepared for the elusive Kurtz to be someone – and something – way, way different and far more disturbing and dangerous.

HCHarlan Coben (right) has thirty or so best selling crime thrillers behind him, but we must never, ever, take him for granted. There is no formula, no template, and no literary flat-pack easy-to-assemble ‘give-the-audience-what-it-wants’ sameness. He takes us to uncomfortable places and introduces us to people who are not stereotype heroes or villains. He is unafraid to give us a rough ride along roads traveled by complicated people who frequently confound our perceptions. Runaway is, quite simply, a brilliant read. It is published by Century and will be out in Kindle and hardback on 21st March. The paperback version is expected in the summer. You can check out other Fully Booked reviews of Harlan Coben’s novels by clicking the links below.

Don’t Let Go

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CURTAIN CALL . . . Between the covers

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Graham Hurley could never be accused of playing safe. Having created one of the genuine originals in English crime fiction, Portsmouth copper Joe Faraday, he has the poor bloke take an overdose to end it all. Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but it was a few years ago. Then, he takes Faraday’s brightest apprentice and moves him down to Devon along with his restless wife and their daughter. Jimmy Suttle was another ‘one-off’ in terms of crime writing, but although he is presumably still in the land of the Quick rather than the Dead, he was last heard of in The Order Of Things (2015)

Hurley has never been a slave to police procedurals. His many standalone novels will testify to this, but now he brings us a deliciously inventive thriller which is a smartly-delivered slap in the face to those people who simply have to organise their To-Be-Read pile into genre boxes. Curtain Call, published by Severn House, describes a few week in the life of Enora Andresson. She is 39 years old and an established actress with CV boasting several highly thought of movies. She is estranged from her charismatic film director husband and, in collateral damage, from their teenage son Malo.

Enora’s world is wickedly spun off its comfortable axis when she is diagnosed with a brain tumour. Surgery removes the immediate threat and Enora picks herself up, dusts herself down, and tries to resume her career. Her life becomes infinitely more complicated when she is contacted by a campaigning Left Wing journalist. Mitch Culligan has done his homework and discovered that Enora has a link to a controversial businessman/fixer/gangster called Hayden Prentice. Prentice, nicknamed ‘Saucy’ after his initials (HP – geddit?) once had his way with Enora aboard a luxury yacht moored off Antibes. But this was back in the day, both enjoyed the fling, and there were no recriminations.

Culligan’s mission is to write an exposé outing Prentice as a mystery donor to the campaign which made all the pollsters look stupid, and ended up with Britain voting, in 23rd June 2016, to leave the European Union. Like many people, now categorised as ‘Remainers’, Culligan is determined to prove graft and corruption, and wants Enora to revisit her relationship with Saucy and feed back any juicy details.

As Robert Burns so memorably put it:

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley”

CCEnora’s reunion with her one-time lover has unintended consequences, particularly in relationship to her son, who turns up in London having fallen out with his father who, in turn is facing bankruptcy after a severe career downturn. There is crime – of a sort – in the novel, most horrifically when Culligan’s Syrian boyfriend is beaten within an inch of his life, but Curtain Call is much more complex and multi-layered. Admirers of the Faraday novels will love the fact that Saucy was a long-time confrère of the ebullient and occasionally unhinged King of the Portsmouth underworld, Bazza Mackenzie, a nemesis who Joe Faraday spent twelve memorable novels trying to put behind bars.

Enora is a wonderfully drawn character; intelligent, worldly and occasionally sentimental, but the linchpin of the novel for me was Hayden Prentice. He is a constant surprise, and a walking tangle of contradictions. Hurley does a brilliant job of first establishing him as an archetypal barrow-boy turned ruthless businessman, with all the sensitivity of an axe murderer, but then dismantling all our impressions one presumption at a time. Saucy delivers his pithy opinion of UKIP supporters:

“They don’t much like abroad, and they definitely don’t like Pakis nicking their seat in the bus, and given half a chance they’d shut their doors and spend the rest of their lives listening to the fucking Archers.”

Enora’s view of political zealotry is more measured:

“Beware of Causes, I tell myself. No matter how worthy.”

Readers will no doubt build their own visual image of Hayden Prentice and Enora Andresson but if I may be allowed to play the indulgent game of Fantasy Casting for a moment, I see Bob Hoskins playing opposite Anne Bancroft. Other pairings are, of course, available and if, when you have read this splendid novel, you would like to have your turn, then please do get in touch!

It’s only February, and there will be dozens more books to come in 2019, but I will be a lucky man if I find one more nuanced, thoughtful and stamped through with a lucid honesty about modern England than Curtain Call. One final nod to those who get misty eyed about the glory days of the Joe Faraday novels, Saucy’s favourite preface to any of his many sardonic utterances about the state of mankind, is just two words:

“Happy Days….”

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SEVERED . . . Between the covers

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In a structurally ramshackle – but otherwise unremarkable – rural parish church in the gently undulating Chiltern Hills, the scant congregation is watching their parish priest reach the most sacred part of the Sunday morning Holy Communion service, where they join together in the belief that “God was man in Palestine, and lives today in Bread and Wine”. In a few violent seconds, however, the wine symbolising Christ’s blood is dramatically spilled and mixed with real human blood, as the vicar is savagely attacked by a young man wielding an axe.

severedThus begins another case for Professor Matt Hunter, a university lecturer in religion and belief. He has previously helped the police in cases which involve sacred or supernatural matters (see the end of this review) and he is called in when it becomes clear that the wielder of the axe was none other than the teenage son of the Reverend David East, and that the boy was under the spell of a cult of deviant Christians whose central belief is that God The Father is a brutal tyrant who murdered his only son. They are also convinced that all other humans but them are ‘Hollows’ with evil in their eyes. Consequently, they shun all contact with the outside world, and live in a remote farmhouse, deep in the hills at the end of a rutted farm track.

Laws manages to recast the relatively benign uplands of the Chilterns as a scarred and brooding landscape with many a nameless terror lurking in its valleys, waiting to pounce on the unwary. There is blood by the pint, a coven of homophobic Christian evangelicals, a storm of biblical ferocity plus every Gothick image you could ever think of – plus a few more besides. Oh yes, I almost forgot – a very convincing and horribly plausible shape-shifter.

As the chapters spin by, Laws dusts off one of the oldest tricks in the book of narrative devices, but deftly breathes new life into it. There are basically two stages in his theatre of horrors; one shows us what is happening around Matt Hunter, while on the other, the members of the sect enact their weird dance of death. Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, so we whirl through the next few pages to see what is going to happen, but then that chapter leaves us in suspense too, so we become caught up in an addictive mad scramble. It’s a ridiculously simple ploy but, good heavens, how well it works.

LawsOne of the most intriguing aspects of the Matt Hunter books is the relationship between the fictional former man of God and the very real and present minister in the Baptist church, the Reverend Peter Laws himself . We get a very vivid and convincing account of how Hunter has lost his faith, but also the many facets of that belief that he has come to see as inconsistent, illogical, or just plain barbaric. It suggests that Laws has identified these doubts in his own mind but, presumably, answered them. In these days of CGI nothing is impossible, so a live debate between Reverend Laws and Professor Hunter would be something to behold.

The finale of this brilliant thriller is apocalyptic enough to satisfy the most ardent fan of the horror genre, but Laws is smart enough – like Phil Rickman in his Merrily Watkins novels – to give everything (well, almost everything) a natural explanation, and when the emotional roller-coaster finally comes to rest we know that it is human beings, images and clones of ourselves if you will, that are capable of far more dreadful deeds than any supernatural monster conjured up from the bowels of Hell. Severed is published by Allison & Busby, and will be available at the end of January 2019.

For more on the extraordinary adventures of Professor Matt Hunter, read the reviews of:

Unleashed

Purged

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . McNab & Winchester

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AS THE CUSTOMARY BANK HOLIDAY MONSOON SETS IN I can at least deliver some comfort in the shape of two new crime novels. One is from an established veteran of military skullduggery both real and imaginary, while the other is written by a former copper who has picked up the proverbial pen after a career dispatching the bad guys to the penitentiary.

LINE OF FIRE by Andy McNab

LOFIt is tempting to add the cliché “who needs no introduction” but it won’t hurt to remind potential readers that the man known as Andy McNab is, in real life, a highly decorated soldier. You don’t receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal for services to military administration, nor is the Military Medal awarded for excellence in ceremonial drill. McNab’s most popular fictional hero returns in Line of Fire, and former Special Forces operator Nick Stone is, as usual, up to his eyes in trouble. He has been given the job of taking out an unusual target. One, it’s a woman and, two, she is a hacker so skilled that her clattering keyboard can potentially disrupt commerce, destroy communications and bring down governments. Line of Fire is published by Corgi/Transworld/Penguin Random House and will be available in paperback from 20th September.

AN URGENT MURDER by Alex Winchester

AUMLEx Met-Police detective Winchester says of his debut novel:

I drew on my thirty years of experience to write the book, using my personal knowledge of investigations and how different people respond to situations they find themselves in.”

An ambitious rookie police officer and a jaundiced ‘been there, done that” colleague make an unlikely pair as they investigate the suspected poisoning of a pensioner. Is their target an unscrupulous nurse, or is the old man’s death linked to the world of organised crime and, specifically, a notorious mobster? An Urgent Murder is published by Matador and will be on the shelves from 28th August.

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THE BREAK LINE . . . Between the covers

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coverOne of my sons was, in his teens, an avid fan of the Andy McNab books and acquired several signed copies of the SAS man’s adventures, and even had a couple of autographed photos of the great man (complete with the obligatory black rectangle across his features, naturally). I have to confess that I didn’t share his enthusiasm, and military thrillers are not normally high on my TBR pile. When the publicists at Michael Joseph sent me a copy of The Break Line by James Brabazon two things aroused my interest. The first was the frankly terrifying background of the author, a documentary film maker and journalist who has been to some of the darkest and most dangerous spots in the world and lived to tell the tale. Second was my admiration for the team at Michael Joseph and my awareness that they don’t, in my experience, publish bad books. If The Break Line had convinced their editorial team, then maybe I should take a closer look?

They were not wrong, and neither was I. This is a breathtaking journey through a world where brave but damaged men are sent into deserts, putrid slums and disease-ridden jungles to do terrible things – mostly to other people who have, for one reason or another, become irrelevant, irritating or downright dangerous.
Who sends them? Why, the dark-suited gentlemen in Whitehall or others in the monolithic 1990s building at 85 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall which houses British intelligence services.

Max McLean is, in all senses, an orphan. Literally, because after his father was killed in a plane crash while engaged in some secret diplomatic mission, his mother cured her grief by filling her pockets with stones and wading out into a deep Irish lake. Metaphorically, because McLean has no anchors, no reference points, no comfort blankets and no safe spaces in the day-to-day world which most of us inhabit. A soldier since he was sixteen, his only family has been The Regiment and, when he bothers to think about it, he could cut his loneliness with a knife.

McLean screws up an assassination assignment through a mixture of conscience and raging hormones, and his penance is to to be sent into the anarchic trou de merde of Sierra Leone. Someone – or something – is disturbing the already fragile equilibrium of that benighted country. McLean is shown a morgue where the corpses have been literally torn apart. This is not cholera, or the dreaded ebola. This is not the work of wild animals, or even drug-crazed teenage Revolutionary United Front rebels with all the moral compass and conscience of a snake.

BrabazonExactly what it is that McLean faces will only be learned when you read the book. The instant you begin to read the first-person narrative, you will rightly assume that McLean survives his ordeal, as an action novel has yet to be written where the protagonist convincingly records his own death, but what happens between the first page and the last is a curious but utterly compelling mix of The Heart of Darkness, Indiana Jones, science fiction and visceral horror shot through with musings about the two great imponderables – life and death. Thriller fans will be able to fill their boots with the usual tropes; Le Carré style double and treble dealing at the highest level, fierce fire-fights, fascinating military detail, treacherous Russians and a cataclysmic body count. Brabazon (right) is not, however, simply ticking genre boxes. He shows an assured and convincing style of writing that puts him way above many of his contemporaries in the genre.

I mentioned at the outset that Brabazon is what used to be called, in colonial days, ‘an old Africa hand.’ He has seen the continent at its best and at its very, very worst – and it is the sheer immensity of the latter which casts a monstrous and baleful shadow over the narrative. The Break Line is published by Michael Joseph and was published in all formats on 26th July.

MORTE POINT . . . Between the covers

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There is a hoary old cliché sometimes heard in football or rugby games, when the manager exhorts his team “to leave nothing in the changing room”. In plain English, he wants, to unearth another classic, “110% effort” from his lads. Robert Parker certainly leaves nothing behind on his keyboard, if I can extend the metaphor. As I noted in my review of his previous novel, Crook’s Hollow:

“If you are a fan of leisurely paced pastoral crime novels, complete with all the tropes – short-sighted vicars, inquisitive spinsters, toffs at the manor house with a dark secret – then maybe this book isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you want 200 pages of non-stop action …..”

Morte PointParker is on similar form here in Morte Point which, as Devonians know, is a rocky peninsula on the north west coast of that county. Rather than the bitterly feuding rural families in Crook’s Hollow, Mr P gives us a jailbird ex SAS soldier, a mysteriously beautiful Kosovan biochemist, a sunken plane wreck containing only the body of a woman (minus her head), a senior British government minister determined to engineer the biggest international shock since Hitler declared war and Stalin, a bloody shoot-out in London’s most prestigious hotel and – at the centre of the drama – a phial containing a synthesised botulism capable of killing millions.

Ben Bracken is the former SAS trooper who has fallen foul of The Regiment and ended up in jail. Escaping, but taking out an insurance policy by way of blackmail material on the governor, he is officially still “inside”. He is not far enough under the radar of a certain officer in the National Crime Agency, however, and Jeremiah Salix contacts Bracken with an offer he cannot (for various reasons) refuse.

An aircraft is due to land at a Devon Royal Marines airbase, but Salix tells Bracken that it will not reach its destination, but instead end up on the seabed. It will be carrying something of great interest to a certain group of individuals, but Bracken’s mission is to dive to the wreck and snatch that certain “something” before the bad guys arrive. Bracken does as he is bid, and despite being kept in the dark about the exact nature of what he was meant to retrieve, he is soon left in no doubt that the people who arrive just too late to prevent him from carrying out Salix’s orders are deadly serious.

robertparkerWhat follows is, to my mind, the best part of the book. Back in the day when the mysterious Andy McNab (and his ever-present black rectangle) was the media’s darling, survival skills, initiative in the wild and hiding in plain sight were familiar tropes in thrillers and on the screen, but Parker (right)  has revitalised the idea. Bracken manages to stay half a step – but no more – ahead of his pursuers as he travels rough on his way north to meet up with Salix. You might scoff, and say that rural Devon is hardly the Iraqi desert, but Bracken realises that he is Britain’s most hunted man and, in these days of 24 hour news coverage on a bewildering range of devices, he knows that he has no friends, and no ally except his own resources and awareness of nature. He comes unstuck, however, after a chance encounter with vipera berus, and from this point the story takes a very different direction.

With the caveat stated at the beginning, this thriller will not tick every CriFi box. Midsomer Murders it ain’t, but in Ben Bracken we have a dangerous and complex man who certainly has every reason to bear a grudge against society while not being entirely without a conscience. The spectacular conclusion in, of all places, a turkey rearing farm, may not be “bootiful”, but it is certainly high-octane drama. Morte Point is published by Endeavour Quill and will be available on 27th July.

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LAST TIME I LIED . . . Between the covers

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Riley SagerI was working in Australia when Peter Weir’s 1975 film Picnic At Hanging Rock premiered. I remember pub and dinner party talk for months after being dominated by interpretations and explanations about what might have happened to the ‘lost girls’. In the endpapers of Last Time I Lied American author Riley Sager, (left) acknowledges his debt to this film (and the short story on which it was based). Instead of a 1900 Melbourne, Sager beams us into up-country New York State in, more or less, our times.

When Emma Davis, a skinny and gawky thirteen year-old just on the verge of young womanhood, wins a place at a prestigious summer camp for privileged teenagers, she falls under the spell of three older girls with whom she shares a cabin. In particular, the assured and sexually aware Vivian captivates Emma, just as she has captivated the other two, Natalie and Allison.

Camp Nightingale was created by a timber baron in the early years of the twentieth century. His master design featured a lake and, as there wasn’t one to hand, he simply evicted the inhabitants of a nearby valley, dammed the river and created his own huge water feature, Lake Midnight. Now the property is in the hands of his descendant, Francesca Harris-White, who presides in benign dictatorship over the gathering of rich city girls every summer.

LTILEmma’s summer idyll is destined to come to an abrupt and tragic end, however, when the three older girls in the cabin disappear one night, never to return. Despite the massive search and rescue operation, Vivian, Natalie and Allison remain missing, and Franny is forced to close the camp in disarray.

Now, fifteen years on, Emma Davis is a successful artist who is on the verge of giving up her day job in an advertising agency to paint full time. Her huge canvases create a stir in the New York art world, but they contain a hidden image known only to the artist. Each painting begins as a depiction of the three missing Camp Nightingale girls, who are progressively painted over by ever more intense foliage until only tantalising glimpses of them remain.

Emma is shocked when she receives an invitation to have lunch with Franny, and her shock turns to panic when she learns that the heiress plans to reopen Camp Nightingale and wants Emma to return for the season as artist in residence. Can she bear to relive the tragic events of that fateful summer? What is Franny’s real motive for reopening the camp? And, most importantly for us as readers, is Emma providing us with a classically misleading unreliable narrative?

Emma does return to Camp Nightingale and, naturally enough, since this is a thriller all about fate and coincidence, she has to sleep in the cabin called Dogwood – the selfsame one which she shared with Vivian, Natalie and Allison. Her new companions are Miranda, Krystal and Sasha. But now, of course, they are the giggly fifteen year-olds, and she is the mature and experienced woman.

Riley Sager packs the story with the literary equivalent of Improvised Explosive Devices, destined to go off at any moment with devastating consequences. We have Theo, Franny’s adoptive son, the subject of Emma’s massive and breathless crush all those years ago. There is Ben, the moody ‘bit of rough’ who has always been the camp maintenance man. Added to the mix are Lottie and Becca, both ‘survivors’ of the first downfall of Camp Nightingale. Above all – or, better, beneath all – is the moody presence of Lake Midnight itself, beneath which lie the stone memories of the displaced villages from over a century ago. Incidentally, if anyone can think of something more dramatically Gothick than Sager’s drowned lunatic asylum, whose roof appears only when the lake suffers from drought, I will give them a prize!

Bitte bei Verwendung Hinweis an: bilder@joexx.de

Last Time I Lied cleverly alternates between Emma’s recollections and the present time. Events in the reopened Camp Nightingale come to resemble nothing more nor less than a disturbing re-enactment of a cold-case crime, where the spectral presence of the fifteen-years-lost girls looms larger and larger with every page.

The eventual solution to what happened to the three girls is dazzling, ingenious, gasp-provoking – and fairly improbable – but, hey, this is a cleverly constructed and blissfully entertaining novel and no lesser person than Aristotle, in his Poetics, declared

“for it is probable that many things may take place contrary to probability.”

Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a New Jersey author who has published several mysteries under his own name, Todd Ritter. Last Time I Lied is published by Ebury Press (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and will be out on 12th July.

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