Lie with Me by Sabine Durrant
Book review by G.J. Williams
Like just about every psychological thriller coming onto the shelves this is presented as a ‘must read’ for those who loved 'The Girl on the Train’, ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘The Widow.’ As might be expected, people are beginning to rail about the strategy to associate all new titles with these successes – marketing departments beware the intelligent reader!
To me this book was Marmite - and I flip flopped between love and hate all the way through.
Lie with Me takes us into the head and story of Paul Morris, a thoroughly odious 42 year old man who after early success as a writer has used his charm, looks and ability to lie and sponge off everyone who crosses his path, especially women. In a chance encounter with an old university friend he is reunited with Alice, now a vulnerable, widowed lawyer, haunted by the disappearance of another woman’s child in Greece, 10 years previously. Paul inveigles his way into her life and then into her annual holiday in Greece.
Once there, the lies continue but truths emerge from the past, and his plans to embed himself in Alice’s life begin to unravel. His murky (both in deed and recollection) past comes back to haunt Paul and in the final twist, you could almost feel sorry for him – but only almost.
So what is there to like?
There is no denying that Sabine Durrant is a master of illustrating a scene. She uses language beautifully and you can almost smell the places she is describing whether this is a poolside, a tavern or the olive groves. Likewise, she can conjure up an atmosphere in 3D. Lie with Mecertainly has atmosphere. It is increasingly claustrophobic, darkness grows and morphs into threat.
Likewise, Sabine Durrant takes you right into the psyche of Paul Morris, though this can also be one of the less appealing aspects of the book as you have to stay in the head of someone with whom you have to dislike. With every comment and observation his character becomes less attractive. That said, the detail with which Durrant builds his character through his observations, thoughts and reactions is clever. Likewise, the way in which his irritation shifts to confusion, jealousy and then to fear keeps you with him to the very last, shocking page.
Other adult characters are also well developed though none of them very likeable. You can just prickle at Andrew’s pugnacious pomposity, Tina is annoyingly Mumsie, Alice is…well you will have to see. The children are very much the periphery and you get little sense of them – though that is in keeping with the Paul Morris view of things. The only things you learn about the children is that which his unsavoury mind would notice. Hence, you only learn about the girls.
The end is gripping and yes, it is a good plot twist which you really do not see coming. This alone is worth keeping with the book and maybe why so many reviewers are giving the high ratings.
What I did not like
It is a slow build, with 90% of the action happening in the last quarter of the book. While the previous chapters are building up to the sudden change in pace and it does grip you at the end, I was screaming ‘Come on, something has to happen!’ by page 30 and nearly giving up at page 100.
The book has just about every psychological thriller ploy in the book. Old relationships being remembered, a sister’s suicide, child abduction, rape, animal cruelty, a two-faced and deceitful main character, parents covering misdeeds. They all layer in bit by bit; they all add to the increasing sense of ‘something terrible is going to happen’ but when they are all part of the plot then your sense of reality gets somewhat stretched.
A detail too far in places. We do not need every little action described. So when odious Paul, having lied about his mechanical skills, pops open the bonnet of an old car, we do not need to be told how he secured it open with the metal bar. Likewise, if a bottle has a skull and cross-bones on it we do not need to be told that this is the ‘international symbol for poison’. I think the skull would have given us a little hint that the contents were not for the evening cocktails. In the same vein there was a lot of ‘tell’ in the book. This is easier to digest as it is in the first person but less would be more in many places.
If you like thrillers with fast pace, twists and action from the first page, this is not a book for you. If you want to go deep into an increasingly sinister and worrying atmosphere which leads to a final head-punch, you will love it. Looking at Goodreads, the majority of people love it and 69% of reviewers rated it 4 or 5 out of 5. Those 22% who rated it 3 or less were either ambivalent or hated it.
Despite all the dislikes, on balance I ended up rating Lie with Mea good read. You need to stay with it for the first quarter and then will find yourself just having to read on in the second half. The end makes the journey worthwhile and you put the book down thinking ‘Noooooo!’