Two shorter reviews with missing bodies…

Today I have a couple of shorter reviews for you. Both novels I enjoyed reading very much, but ones I don’t want to say too much about to avoid spoiling the drama should you read them!

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

lying-in-waitI read Irish author Liz Nugent’s first novel, Unraveling Oliver, a couple of years ago, (see the review at my old blog here). It was a great psychological drama with a nasty lead character that we’d describe as ‘Rob Tichener’-like these days (from The Archers on Radio4).

With Lying in Wait, the publicity hails Nugent as Ireland’s answer to Gillian Flynn, which raises expectations very high – and I have to say, I enjoyed this novel more than Gone GirlUnraveling Oliver started with a killer first line, and Nugent’s second novel does too:

My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.

You can’t not read one after a start like that!

Annie Doyle was a drug addict and prostitute. Andrew Fitzsimmons murdered her, and his wife Lydia made him cover it up. He can’t cope with it.

Andrew is a high court judge in Dublin, married to Lydia, whose Daddy had taken Andrew on as his protégé. When Lydia’s Daddy died, she inherited the large Georgian house called Avalon where she lives ‘happily’ with her husband and teenaged son, Laurence, yet she yearns for perfection in her life. However, when their accountant makes off with all their money, they are left short…

Had I married badly after all? My role was to be presentable, beautiful, charming – a homemaker, a companion, a good cook, lover and a mother. A mother.

Laurence is taken out of his expensive private school and now severely bullied at the local one, although he does have a sort of girlfriend in classmate Helen. He’s an intelligent, sensitive and overweight boy who realises that something happened which his parents are covering up, but he doesn’t know that Annie is buried in their back garden.

The story alternates between narrators. Lydia, Laurence and Annie’s sister Karen, and in each chapter as we swap voices, the tension rises, the plot twists and turns again and again. We gradually find out more about what happened that night in 1980, why it happened, how Lydia tries to control everything and how Laurence is driven to act.

I devoured this book. The characters are totally compelling, however good or nasty they are. Lydia is also believable in a way that Amazing Amy from Gone Girl never really was. Totally recommended and very sinister. (9.5/10)

Source: Publisher – Thank you.

Liz Nugent, Lying in Wait (Penguin, July 2016) Trade paperback, 320 pages.

* * * * *

Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

tall-oaksSmall town. Big secrets.

It starts with a missing toddler.  Jim is listening to the interview tapes in which Jessica, three-year-old Harry’s mother explains how Harry had just moved to his own bedroom in the basement, but they kept the baby monitor and a camera on. When she something woke her in the night, she scanned with the camera – and saw a man in a clown mask sitting in the rocking chair. By the time she got downstairs, Harry was gone.

It’s a compelling start, inducing instant coulrophobia (fear of clowns) and a clever way of introducing a flashback in the present.

In the next few chapters, rather than follow the investigation into Harry’s disappearance, we meet some of Tall Oaks’ residents.

The comic relief is provided by Mexican Manny, a seventeen year old who wants to be the next Tony Soprano. “I told you a thousand times, just call me ‘M.’ Like Tony Soprano is ‘T’ to the guys closest to him,” he castigates his consigliare-in-waiting, Abel. Manny is desperate to be more of a man, to look after and provide for his mother who is dating Jared, a car salesman. The wannabe gangster plans to offer ‘protection’ – but not the violent type.

Jerry runs the town’s photo shop, owned by Max, who takes full advantage of his sole employee:

At six foot nine, and closing in on 500 pounds, Jerry Lee was used to the staring and whispering. He was used to the laughter too, though that came when he opened his mouth. With the height, the weight, a list of allergies as long as his arm, and a mind his mother said often took a beat too long to form a coherent thought, life might have been difficult enough. But with a voice that soared to the highest of pitches, he really didn’t stand much of a chance.

Then we have Jess herself, estranged from her husband. She is driven to try to expurge the guilt of Harry’s abduction by increasingly extreme behaviour, seeking out risky, rough sex, drinking, not eating.

The classic small town setting means of course, that everyone pretty much knows each other. They are all connected, they all know what happened and are affected by it – but which one of them did it?  There’s a deliberate Twin Peaks feel to the proceedings, although police chief Jim is no Agent Dale Cooper.

It’s a totally character-driven novel and as we get to know the town and its inhabitants, we find that everyone is hiding something, be it big or small secrets, which are gradually exposed, red herrings, guilty pleasures and the real plot twists.

All of life is there in Tall Oaks, and in this respect, it reminded me of a superb thriller I read last summer – Orient by Christopher Bollen. (review here at my old blog). Whereas Orient’s plot centres around incomers to a village, Tall Oaks has a closed circle – but you can still be wrong-footed on whodunnit, even as we approach the denouement.

Chris Whitaker was a financial trader in London, this is his debut novel and I enjoyed it a lot. I sensed that the author was rather pleased with Manny and gave him rather too many lines, but there was a lot to enjoy in this novel, more than just a whodunnit. (8.5/10)

Source: Publisher – thank you

Chris Whitaker, Tall Oaks, (Twenty7, September 2016), paperback original, 368 pages.

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