Who’s Lying Now by Susan Lewis – a complex and enthralling contemporary novel of secrets and lies

Who’s Lying Now? by Susan Lewis

This is a very clever and brilliantly constructed book. Written from several points of view, in that various female characters are the subject of the various chapters, and flashbacks are carefully deployed, this is a masterly display of creating a who dunnit, or at least what happened which never disappoints. Who to trust, who has something to hide, and what actually happens becomes a preoccupation for every character in this book, not only Clara, a young woman charged with investigating a disappearance, but also everyone involved in a complex web of networks that dominate the area. It is also set in the final weeks of 2020 and the early months of 2021, when lockdowns and restrictions made people feel unsure; when social distancing, wearing masks and online interviews made for uncertainty about people’s real expressions and intentions. This is a contemporary mystery which harks back to some events that happened previously, but crucially is mainly set in an uncertain time. It is an enthralling novel, and I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review it.  

The novel opens with Jeannie Symonds, a wealthy publisher with a reputation for being tough, on a long phone call with her assistant on 6th January 2021. She spots someone outside her big and comfortable house, the landscaper responsible for transforming the extensive grounds of her country home on the coast. Receiving a note she decides to leave her home quietly. That departure creates a mystery that forms much of the drive of that book. Twelve days later a young trainee investigator, Cara, is assigned to look into Jeannie’s disappearance, as referred to the police by Andee, an ex- detective. She had been contacted by Jeannie’s  husband Guy, a charismatic surgeon, who had appeared in the Seafront cafe of a mutual friend, Fliss. As Cara is introduced to the case, she is made aware that Jeannie apparently has a history of short term disappearances, partly in accordance with her somewhat mercurial temperament. Guy was not immediately concerned that his wife was not present when he returned from London, but eventually sought help from Fliss when she did not turn up. All that is known is that her car is missing, and that it is particularly difficult to go and stay anywhere in a time of lockdown. Fliss is well known to Andee and indeed the community. Her ex husband, Neil, is a landscaper and gardener much in demand in the area. Their teenage son Zac has largely grown up in his house which he shares with his second wife, the excitable Estelle and their daughter, nine year old Chloe. Zac has been staying with Fliss during the recent lockdowns, and between studying for A levels working for his father. Estelle is an unusual character who had written a successful novel some time ago, but is now estranged from her ex publisher Jeannie. She has a personal assistant, Primrose or Prim, who has become a member of the family. As Cara and Andee investigate the disappearance of the older women, the rather convoluted relationships in the community and beyond become even more stained, with everyone’s relationships and possible motives coming under scrutiny, even when there is uncertainty that a crime has even taken place. 

This is a completely enthralling novel to read as the characters are so well drawn and consistent, and the threads which draw them together and are under strain are fascinating. The pandemic elements are ambitious as so many authors are not yet tackling this time in detail in my experience, yet it is not overbearing. I recommend this novel as a great achievement and a really good read, taking the reader alongside the characters as they discover the truth and lies of a complex situation.  

I Have Something to Tell You by Susan Lewis – a contemporary novel of crime and fractured relationships

I Have Something to Tell You by Susan Lewis

Jessica has an idyllic if busy life. Senior partner in a firm of solicitors in Bristol, she specializes in criminal defence, and meets with some interesting people. Married to Tom, a successful barrister, her two children are nearly launched into their adult lives, with only a few wobbles, or possibly more. Known as Jay, she has supportive friends, and has surrounded herself with other lawyers, investigators and secretarial help. Then one day she is asked to take on a new client, one Edward Blake, who is accused of murdering his wife. There is something about this case, among so many others, that stands out. Maybe it is the question of something hidden, a betrayal that is at the heart of the closest of relationships. When her husband utters the words “I have something to tell you”, she begins to realise that she may not only have to defend her client, but also tackle a problem with the person she most trusts – or does she?

This is a gripping novel of law, love and secrets. Jay’s story is the focus of this fascinating legal procedural as the truth of a brutal murder gradually comes to light in the context of contemporary investigation by both the legal team charged with the defence of a wealthy client who maintains his innocence, and the police. The case is placed squarely in the midst of the context of the difficult relationship between Jay and Tom from Jay’s point of view, as she tries to second guess what will happen in a relationship which is already cracked. I found both elements of the novel really engaging, as Lewis skillfully increases the tension on several fronts. She also creates a good sense of place, in the contrast between interview rooms and country homes, the backgrounds of the wealthy in sharp contrast to the isolation of imprisonment. The greatest achievement of this book is undoubtedly the characters, as they range from Jay’s outward control and inward doubts to the quiet stoicism of Edward Blake with an underlying desperation, with the temperamental Tom to the friends who offer support. I found myself totally engaged with this well written novel, with surprises and twists to maintain interest. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this enjoyable book.

The book opens with Jay engaged in a normal working day of papers, files and calls when she is alerted to a call from Detective Inspector Ken Bright. She has a lot of respect for this particular police officer as a result of previous encounters. The basic facts are that Edward Blake is thirty – nine and arrested on suspicion of killing his wife at their home. He does fit anyone’s expectations as he is a property developer and architect with substantial resources and a seemingly ideal life. As Jay meets Blake she discovers that he is a quietly charismatic man with secrets that go beyond his current situation. She is also suddenly afflicted with memories of a situation that she is still trying to process, to forgive as forgetting is impossible.

This is an intense and powerful read that makes the most of impressive research into how criminal defence lawyers work which is seamlessly woven into the narrative. It is a clever book which introduces information and surprises in a well-timed way. The relationship between Jay and her husband is brilliantly described as well as the context of family and friends. The central mystery is unraveled in such a clever way in the setting of the book that it marks this book out as a memorable read. I recommend this book to all those who enjoy reading about contemporary crime in very realistic settings.